The 2018 UCF Knights picked up exactly where they left off Thursday night in Storrs, defeating UConn 56-17. With UCF playing against overmatched UConn, what are some of the keys going forward for the Knights?
The 2018 season began anticlimactically for the Knights with Aaron Robinson suffering what looked like a severe injury during the opening kickoff. Thankfully, it looks as though he will make a full recovery. His injury was a reminder about how fortunate the Knights were in 2017 in terms of injuries. Arguably the most important key to 2018: the Knights have to stay as healthy as they did in 2017, which proved to be a remarkable lucky year. A couple injuries could derail this team, especially if one is #HIsman hopeful McKenzie Milton.
Offense: Tight Ends
Josh Heupel’s offensive success at Mizzou plus his willingness to adapt to fit the needs of a solid offensive core led the Knights to more than 650 yards and 5 long TD drives lasting less than 3 minutes each. I would argue that one position group will be key for the Knights’ offense this fall: the tight ends. UCF’s 2017 offense was one of the best in the nation because defensive coaches and players couldn’t’ figure out who to guard against. In other words, RBs, WRs, TEs, and Otis Anderson were all so good at executing plays that taking away WRs left TEs open, keying in on TEs and WRs led to an excellent running game, and taking away the running game left McKenzie Milton with a smorgasbord of passing options (let along what Milton could do by himself). Who are you going to guard?
Little doubt remains currently about WRs and RBs. So, the TE position must perform as well as Jordan Akins and Jordan Franks last year. Luckily, Michael Colubiale returns, but he, Jake Hescock, et al. must execute at a high level to sustain offensive success. In Thursday night’s game, Colubiale was targeted twice catching one pass for 17 yards. How will Heupel utilize the TEs going forward?
Defense: Randy Shannon
The Knights’ 2017 defense will probably be forgotten as time goes on, but you can’t deny how important the defense was as the biggest three games ended with takeaways (USF fumble recovery, Memphis and Auburn interceptions). Randy Shannon brings a new scheme and a ton of experience. The Knights’ 2018 defensive unit seemed to struggle at times Thursday night with poor tackling and angles, both of which are correctable. Also, the UConn QB seemed to have a lot of time behind the line of scrimmage. It remains to be seen how well the defense will improve between weeks 1 and 2, but giving up nearly 500 yards on offense has to make fans and coaches nervous. The defense will have to do better going forward.
Maybe one of the best things to happen to the 2018 team is the seeming lack of respect during the preseason. The Knights’ PR team is pretty fired up as well as the fans, but ultimately it comes down to the players. How focused are they as the season begins? How focused will the remain if they get to 5-0 and think they can cruise against a solid SMU team? Conversely, how focused will they remain if they lose early to FAU, UNC, or Pitt? The general attitude of the team, going from hunter to hunted, will be very important, especially since this team will more than likely be underrated by pollsters the rest of the season.