Matt Murschel: UCF expects growth from QB Timmy McClain moving forward

Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel/Willie J. Allen Jr.

Timmy McClain’s debut at UCF went off without much of a hitch, with the redshirt sophomore quarterback leading the Knights to a 48-14 romp over visiting Villanova last Saturday.

McClain, who stepped into the starting job after John Rhys Plumlee suffered a leg injury at Boise State on Sept. 9, went 20 of 28 (71%) for 321 passing yards with two touchdowns, adding 44 rushing yards.

“We’ve been grinding on this since January, preparing him to play,” said offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw. “It’s been a process of investing in himself to get ready to go perform. He’s been very focused throughout that process, waiting for his moment and then it happened.”

Hinshaw believes there is potential for McClain to do even better things.

“He finished the game 20 of 28 but could have been 25 of 28 very easily,” Hinshaw said. “I got on him about fine-tuning his game. We’ve got to make those easy ones and go make the hard ones.”

McClain’s next start comes this Saturday when UCF (3-0, 0-0 Big 12) travels to Kansas State (2-1, 0-0 Big 12) for its Big 12 opener. The Knights expect a raucous atmosphere from the sell-out crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

“I believe each time out there, he’s going to get more comfortable,” said coach Gus Malzahn. “But this is one of the better defenses we’ll face all season, so we’ll have to be good around him, too.

McClain understands the importance of not just this weekend’s game.

“Every game is important, not just Kansas State,” said McClain. “We can’t lose those games if we want to reach the College Football Playoff and make it to the Big 12 Championship. We can’t let that happen.”

How has receiver Kobe Hudson turned it on lately?

Hudson is second in the Big 12 Conference in receiving yards (325) and sixth in receptions (15) through three games. His performance has him graded as the ninth-best (76.9) receiver in the conference, according to Pro Football Focus.

He’s put together back-to-back 100-yard receiving games for the first time in his career, including a career-high 147 yards against Villanova last Saturday.

That wasn’t the case at times during the spring and fall camps.

“The one guy we’ve been on since spring and all summer is Kobe Hudson,” said Hinshaw. “He’s a guy that didn’t do all the little things very, very good. He didn’t. It’s doing all the little things in the route running, your steps, your depth, all those things lead to big plays. They don’t just happen.

“We’ve been on him and he’s fine-tuned his game. You can see it happening on the field and I’m proud of him and his hard work and what he’s doing.”

Added Malzahn: “He’s had his best two weeks of practices since he’s been here. What happened is it carried over into the game. My expectation is he’ll continue to do that. If he does, he will have a really good year.”

What’s the situation at the center spot?

Pre-snap penalties have been a concern for UCF after the Knights were flagged seven times for false starts this season.

After a false start and a bad snap in the first quarter, starting center Drake Metcalf (26 snaps) was replaced by redshirt freshman Caden Kitler, who took most of the snaps (62) for the rest of the game.

Metcalf won the starting job out of fall camp, but Malzahn wouldn’t commit to who would get the start against Kansas State.

“There’s some competition,” said Malzahn. “We’re not going to have any more self-inflicted wounds with that position, so we’ll have some competition and we’ll see. It’s Game 4, so you would like to have all that lined out, but we’re still a work in progress in figuring out.”

Injuries on the offensive line have forced the Knights to dig into their rotation more.

Left guard Bula Schmidt, who missed Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury, was replaced by redshirt senior Adrian Medley on the depth chart. Medley would also leave the game and was replaced by Edward Collins.

What’s been the secret to the defense’s hot start?

UCF ranks 16th in the nation in scoring defense (12 points) and 28th overall in total defense (283 yards).

Much of that success can be attributed to the unit’s fast start in games.

The Knights have allowed 16 points through the first three-quarters of their games, including 0 points to Villanova last week.

The defense allowed 38 yards in the first half against the Wildcats, including 1-yard passing.

“The first half was a thing of beauty for our defense,” Malzahn said after the game. “They had 24 [offensive] snaps, which was unheard of.”

Defensive coordinator Addison Williams challenged his unit to start fast and dominate the line of scrimmage.

“I told him the first couple of games, we dominated at times, but we need to dominate early and often,” said Williams.

Added redshirt senior linebacker Jason Johnson: “Coach [Williams] challenged us to start fast and we’ve been doing it every game, so now he challenged us to finish stronger. We’re still allowing points at the end, so we can’t do that from now on.”

The Knights have given up 20 points in the fourth quarter against Boise State (6 points) and Villanova (14).