FIU wraps up its non-conference schedule Saturday at home against UCF. The Panthers and the Knights know each other well from not only their intrastate series but many of the players on each side played with or against one another in high school. However, at this point that may be as much as these two teams have in common right now.
UCF (1-2) is coming off a 30-24 double overtime loss to Maryland, who defeated FIU 41-14 two weeks ago. The Panthers (0-3), still trying to find offensive consistency, lost to UMass 21-13 last weekend.
The Knights are led by first-year coach Scott Frost, who has brought the Oregon offense east with him. Frost was Oregon's offensive coordinator last season. UCF features a no-huddle fast break read-option offense and if the Panthers aren't careful defensively it could make for a long Saturday night.
This season UCF has rushed for 197 yards against South Carolina State (38-0 win for the Knights), 275 yards at Michigan (51-14 loss) and 195 yards against Maryland. Those are some pretty damn good rushing numbers. The FIU defense yielded 246 rushing yards against Indiana, 239 yards against Maryland and 116 against UMass.
UCF starting quarterback Justin Holman was injured against Michigan and missed the Maryland game. Normally, when your starting quarterback is out it's not good news but talking to several people that cover the UCF program this was not the worst news because Holman wasn't playing well.
Freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton stepped in last week and threw for 260 yards and two touchdowns. Milton also gained 62 yards on the ground but when you factor in the three sacks he took Milton had a net rushing gain of seven yards. Speaking with some Orlando folks, Milton is athletic, has tremendous pocket awareness and is a member of Company Jones. Milton is also the first player ever from Hawaii to play at UCF -- the connection comes from Frost, who coached former Oregon quarterback and Hawaii native Marcus Mariota, who is now the Tennessee Titans quarterback.
UCF uses four running backs to orchestrate its Oregon offense to keep each back fresh in the frenetic, fast-paced attack. Jawon Hamilton leads the backs with 157 yards. Tre'Quan Smith leads the Knights in receiving with 179 yards.
FIU struggled against Maryland's read-option style of offense and the Panthers will see more of that on Saturday. The Panthers front seven has to stay disciplined in defending the UCF read-option. The Panthers defense also has to get off the field after three downs because if UCF extends drives and FIU can't substitute then the FIU defensive tank will be empty come the second half.
As potent as the UCF offense has been early on, FIU's offense has not. The Panthers need to find an offensive spark other than running back Alex Gardner and freshman receiver Stantley Thomas. Right now FIU is not in sync in the passing game and if that continues teams will start stacking the box and take away the run. Knowing what UCF brings offensively it would behoove FIU to control the ball and thus the clock to keep its defense from being on the field for long stretches.
UCF's defense can be run on as the Terrapins showed by getting 246 yards on the ground. Michigan had 119 rushing yards but threw for 328 yards. The Knights defense has been vulnerable early in games allowing 21 points and 23 points in the first and second quarters this season, respectively. UCF's D does clamp down in the second half having allowed just 17 points and seven points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively.
We'll have more on the Knights when Orlando Sentinel UCF beat writer Shannon Green joins us to answer 5 Questions on UCF later.