UCF faces key questions heading into road contest with Boise State

Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS

It’s safe to say that UCF didn’t showcase much of its offensive playbook in its 56-6 season-opening win over Kent State last Thursday, choosing to keep things closer to the vest heading into this week’s matchup with Boise State.

The Knights (1-0, 0-0 Big 12) totaled 723 yards of offense in a balanced attack that featured 389 rushing yards and 334 passing yards.

“For us to be successful, we’re going to need to be balanced,” said UCF coach Gus Malzahn. “We’re a little different than that, but to be successful against anyone, we must be balanced. That’ll be a big key.”

As much as balance is a crucial part of what UCF wants to do offensively, Malzahn talked in the preseason about the need for the offense to push the ball downfield more. It’s one of the reasons that Darin Hinshaw was brought in to be the offensive coordinator.

The Knights only attempted three passes of 20-plus yards against Kent State Thursday night, per Pro Football Focus.
Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee tried two of those throws, completing a 32-yard pass to receiver Xavier Townsend in the first quarter, while the other attempt was an interception.

Much of UCF’s passing attack centered in the intermediate range, with the Knights completing 20 of 26 throws from inside 20 yards out, including three touchdowns to Townsend (8 yards), Alec Holler (18 yards) and RJ Harvey (50 yards).

There is potential for explosive passing plays (20-plus yards) against Boise State (0-1, 0-0 MWC) this weekend.

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The Broncos surrendered 16 passing plays of 20 or more yards, totaling 432 yards in their 56-19 loss to No. 10 Washington last Saturday. It included touchdowns of 38 yards, 44 yards, 20 yards and 31 yards. Huskies quarterback Michael Pennix Jr. was 4 of 8 for 161 yards with 2 touchdowns on throws of 20 or more yards.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that can positively affect the game, getting the ball, spread the ball around,” added Malzahn.

Will the Knights continue to rotate several players in the secondary?

UCF rotated 11 defensive backs in its home opener, with DeJordan Mask, Brandon Adams, Corey Thornton, Quadric Bullard and Nikai Martinez earning the start against Kent State.

Braeden Marshall, Decorian Patterson, Fred Davis, Ja’Cari Henderson, William Wells and Jireh Wilson also took significant snaps against the Golden Flashes.

“We have some depth there,” said Malzahn. “Much of that [rotation] was by design, too. We have a bunch of young guys and we need to get them out there to play and get that experience. You saw that and it will help us, especially as we get to conference play.”

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Defensive coordinator Addison Williams said Thursday’s hot and humid weather conditions also led to the plan to use more players.

“It was kind of by design because it was so muggy out there to roll some guys early and get them going,” he said.

However, Williams indicated that playing time has to be earned.

“We just talked about it in the defensive meeting,” said Williams. “If you didn’t play as much as you may have wanted to play, go earn the right on the practice field because if you earn the right, we’re going to put you out there.”

What are some areas of concern facing Boise State?

UCF’s coaches got a good look at Boise State during the Broncos’ 56-19 loss to No. 10 Washington on Saturday. Despite the lopsided result, Malzahn came away with a few key concerns heading into this weekend’s showdown.

“The running backs had a couple of big screens,” he said. “That was impressive. They [Boise State] were able to run the football at the middle and their quarterback. We watched them all last year and we’re very impressed with him.

Four different Broncos rushed for 141 yards, led by tailbacks George Holani (51 yards) and Ashton Jeanty (44 yards, TD). Jeanty also had four catches for 109 yards, highlighted by a 50-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

Pictures: UCF’s win over Kent State

Quarterback Taylen Green was 19 of 39 for 244 passing yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. The redshirt sophomore completed 7 of 8 screen passes for 64 yards and the Jeanty touchdown.

How different are these two teams since they last met in 2021?

These teams played two years ago in Orlando, but both rosters have changed through attrition or the transfer portal.

Tailback George Holani is the only starter back on offense, with center Garrett Curran, receivers Stefan Cobbs and Billy Bowens and quarterback Taylen Green listed as backups. Edge rusher Demitri Washington and defensive backs Markel Reed and Kaonohi Kaniho are the only starters to return from that defense, with linebacker DJ Schramm and safety Jaylen Clark moving up from prior backup roles.

Right guard Lokahi Pauole, defensive tackle Ricky Barber and defensive backs Corey Thornton and Quadric Bullard are the only UCF starters featured on that team, with tailbacks Johnny Richardson and Mark-Antony Richards, tight end Alec Holler, tackle Ed Collins, defensive end Josh Celiscar and defensive back Brandon Adams listed as backups at the time.

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