Saturday's fifth meeting between FIU and Central Florida (the intrastate series is tied 2-2) is likely to come down to who can control the tempo of the game. UCF, under first-year coach Scott Frost, employs a fast break, read-option system that Frost brought from Oregon where he was the offensive coordinator last season. The Knights will go after the Panthers with the no-huddle attack and hope to wear down the FIU defense.
UCF freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton, who ran this offense at Hawaii's Mililani High the last four years, was recruited to Oregon by Frost and followed him to Orlando. Milton, who is the first Hawaii native to play at UCF, will be making his second start Saturday after passing for 260 yards and two touchdowns last week against Maryland in his collegiate debut. Milton has replaced starting quarterback Justin Holman, who missed last week with an injury. Holman is healthy now but apparently has lost his job.
Last season when UCF went 0-12 in former coach George O' Leary's final season the Knights averaged 65 offensive plays a game. This season through the first three games under Frost, UCF is averaging 83.3 plays per game. Last season UCF averaged 13.9 points per game, 81.2 rushing yards per game and 187.2 passing yards per game to total 268.4 yards per game.
This season in their new offense through three games (against South Carolina State, Michigan and Maryland) UCF is averaging 25.3 points per game, 222.3 rushing yards per game and 193.7 passing yards per game to total 416 yards per game. Not too shabby an improvement.
It will be imperative for the FIU defense to get off the field as soon as possible or this lightning-quick UCF offense could run the Panthers out of their own building. With the no-huddle scheme that UCF runs, FIU won't have time to substitute unless it calls time out or there is an injury. FIU improved its run defense last week against UMass allowing 116 yards after Indiana and Maryland struck for 246 and 239 yards on the ground, respectively.
The FIU offense has to help the FIU defense by sustaining drives and keeping that high-powered UCF offense on the sidelines. The Panthers cannot accumulate three-and-outs and expect their defense to hang in there the whole game. Getting the running game going with someone else helping leading rusher Alex Gardner will be crucial. FIU has to control the clock.
The FIU passing game which has not been up to par the first three weeks of the season has to have some consistency Saturday night. If the Panthers can't get the Knights to respect the pass then UCF will stack the box against Gardner and shut down the FIU offense. FIU has to not only string together completions for positive yardage but connecting down the field on a few passes would most definitely provide some running room for Gardner and company. The Panthers have to make the Knights wary of the downfield throw and not just worry about the underneath pass.
Last season FIU won a 15-14 defensive slugfest with UCF after Darrian Dyson blocked a last play field goal. Saturday's contest is expected to be more of a points-fest where FIU might have to keep up with UCF by scoring touchdowns and not relying on field goals despite the solid start to the season by kicker Austin Taylor.
The City of Neon Lights thinks UCF is half of a Tom Brady jersey number and a half better than FIU. The Panthers thus far haven't shown the offensive pop to dispute that and the UCF offense might be the biggest challenge of the season thus far for the FIU defense.
Weather this time of year in Miami could play a factor in Saturday's game. For the 7 p.m. kickoff the temperature is expected to be 82 degrees with a 35 percent chance of rain and 78 percent humidity. UCF is used to the heat since they are located in the Sunshine State, but the possible rain could factor into each team's offense holding on to the ball and how the game might swing.