UCF opens Big 12 play with huge road test at Kansas State

Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel/TNS

UCF coach Gus Malzahn knows what his Knights will face when they step onto the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium to take on Kansas State on Saturday night.

“It will be loud,” said Malzahn.

As the coach at Auburn, he led the No. 5 Tigers to Manhattan to take on the 20th-ranked Wildcats on Sept. 18, 2014. His team came away with a 20-14 victory, but the atmosphere still stands out.

“I remember they had a bunch of Harleys [Davidson motorcycles] during the pregame,” Malzahn recalled of the program’s annual Harley Day. “There were probably 100 of them and once the game got going, they were pretty close to you and extremely loud. It was a real atmosphere.”

While this weekend’s matchup won’t feature a cavalcade of Harleys — that’s reserved for a home contest with TCU on Oct. 21 — it’s a sellout crowd expected at the 50,000-seat venue for the Big 12 opener with UCF (3-0, 0-0) and the Wildcats (2-1, 0-0).

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This is the second road contest for the Knights and the second time they will face a sellout crowd.

UCF got a sneak peek of the hostile road environments when the Knights traveled to Boise State on Sept. 9. The team rallied twice in the final eight minutes before a walk-off 40-yard field goal by Colton Boomer sent the team back to Orlando 2-0.

“Being at Boise and seeing what it’s like on the road and having our backs against the wall helps us move forward going to Kansas State,” said defensive coordinator Addison Williams.

Added offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw: “We’ve got to be road warriors. We can’t let other things bother us, like the environment and everything around us. We’ve got to be able to handle ourselves.”

UCF will prepare for the challenge by piping in crowd noise during their practices.

Senior receiver Javon Baker prefers the raucous during the road games.

“I like playing on the road. There’s something about the fans where it’s like shutting them up,” he said. “I like to shut the fans up and show them how our team is.”

Adding to the enormity of the weekend is this will be UCF’s first Big 12 game. It’s been almost two years since the school accepted a bid to the Power Five.

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“We’re glad it’s here and we just happen to be playing the [Big 12] defending champs in the league,” said Malzahn.

Said redshirt senior linebacker Jason Johnson: “It’s going to be a challenge. We want to make history and show what we can do.”

The Wildcats are coming off a 30-27 loss at Missouri, where the Tigers used a walk-off 61-yard field goal to upend them this past weekend. The loss knocked them out of the top 25 rankings for the first time since the third week of last season.

Kansas State is 18-10 at home (64%) in the five seasons under coach Chris Klieman.

Much of the focus this week is eliminating self-inflicted wounds, particularly the pre-snap penalties.

UCF has been flagged seven times for false starts through the first three games, prompting the coaching staff to make a change at center, replacing starter Drake Metcalf with backup Caden Kitler.

Saturday’s game also will be the second start for backup quarterback Timmy McClain, who stepped into the starting role after John Rhys Plumlee injured his leg during the Knights’ win at Boise State.

McClain finished 20 of 28 for 322 passing yards, two touchdowns and 44 rushing yards on nine carries against Villanova in a 48-14 rout.

UCF’s Colton Boomer is confident in his kicking, faith

Malzahn said his advice to the redshirt sophomore will be simple.

“Just run the offense. That’s it,” he said. “We have got to be good around him, but he just needs to be himself. He’s a really good quarterback. You go out there and play and adjust as we go offensively.”

Said redshirt senior running back RJ Harvey: “Everybody is excited to be taking on Kansas State. We’re going to get their best shot. … This is the best UCF team I’ve ever been a part of, so we will do our best.”

Email Matt Murschel at or follow him on Twitter at @osmattmurschel.