Central Florida quite honestly entered their first year in the AAC with a schedule UofL fans would probably clamor for. The Golden Knights took a trip to Happy Valley earlier in the season and knocked off perennial power Penn State. Their next game was against Jadeveon Clowney and company at South Carolina. They now take on their second ranked team in the last three weeks and they get to take another shot at pulling off a major upset.
UCF has a pretty balanced attack that does pretty much everything at an above average level. The offense is led by Blake Bortles, who is easily the best quarterback Louisville will face this regular season. Bortles has a strong arm and doesn't miss too often. He is coming off of his worst game of the season, but it was the type of game where the broadcast did a montage of his receivers dropping wide open passes. You can't fault him much for what happened.
Bortles can use his legs to buy time against the rush or just to gain yardage if the pocket breaks down. The Knights don't put him in a ton of situations where he is asked to run, but he can run the spread option if need be. Bortles' strong point is his ability to be accurate while still taking chances down the field. He protects the ball very well also and he won't be rattled by Louisville's pressure. He's not going to make the mistakes we've seen some quarterbacks make this year. However, he hasn't faced a defense that brings the type of pressure Louisville does.
All-Name second teamer, Storm Johnson, is the primary running back for UCF. Johnson was a big time recruit coming out of high school and ended up at UCF after transferring from Miami. Johnson is a fairly big back with fairly good speed. He optimizes the offense to me. He's better than most, but he doesn't really "wow" you. Johnson has broken a few big runs this year and he's very solid in the redzone. The Knights will have to get Johnson going this week if they want to have success against the vaunted Cardinals defense. Rutgers had a few drives where they were able to move the ball last week. In each of them, they ran the ball better than they had all game. When Vance Bedford is able to dictate what your offense is allowed to do, it will be a long night.
I fully expected Rutgers' receivers to really test Louisville's secondary down the field last week, but the offense took a pretty conservative approach. I don't expect to see UCF do the same. They like their short passing game with quick outs and other plays you see in a spread attack, but they have two really good receivers out wide. Breshad Perriman and Rannell Hall can both get down the field and they can both make athletic plays that make them hard to defend. Both had a 70+ yard catch in the fourth quarter of the USC game and both catches were on 15 yard post routes. They just outran everyone after that. Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith will need to keep up their stellar play against those two. J.J. Worton and Jeff Godfrey are also reliable targets for Bortles.
UCF has, potentially, the best offensive line Louisville will face this year. Left tackle Torian Wilson spurned UofL for the Knights a few years back right before signing day. He helped shut down Jadeveon Clowney earlier this year and he and the rest of the line have only allowed 8 sacks so far. They don't have great rushing numbers as a team, but Johnson is averaging over 5 yards per carry and Bortles typically has a huge pocket to throw from. Louisville's defense has made a living in the opposing backfield all year. The UCF line has a tough task ahead of it.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Blake Bortles, RB Storm Johnson, LT Torian WIlson, WR Brashad Perriman, WR Rannell Hall
This defense is a statistical anomaly. To sum it up pretty easily, the amount of yards they allow is pretty close to the amount the offense gains, but they allow about half as many points. The defensive line lost their best pass rusher earlier in the week when Blake Keller quit the team. That left them without a true pass rusher right before they matched up with the quarterback with the best pocket presence in the country. Not really a good sign for the front four. The line has done a good job of holding up blockers and allowing the linebackers to make plays. But not much else.
Terrance Plummer is one of the better linebackers in the conference and he leads the team in just about everything. He's a high energy guy that runs extremely well and brings bad intentions when he gets to where he's going. He was responsible for knocking USC quarterback Conner Shaw out of the game in their matchup. One thing that Plummer can't do is make up for the loss of Willie Mitchell. Mitchell was suspended early this year and his replacements are two guys that, according to this week's depth chart, don't even weigh 200 pounds. Needless to say, the defense has been gashed for big runs and the tackling at the second level has been suspect at best. Louisville will try to expose the issues with the linebackers with outside runs and play action coming off of those runs. Plummer and the defensive staff have had a bye week to try to fix some issues. It'll be interesting to see what changes they've made.
The secondary is the key element of this defense. They are all long and athletic guys that do a great job of making the window a quarterback has to throw into as small as possible. They don't make a ton of big plays or even break up a lot of passes. But they make it very hard on quarterbacks to complete passes down the field. The defense is designed to keep everything in front of it and stop the big play. They will give you the 3 yard pass and come up and make the tackle. The big battle in this game will be the Knights' third down defense against Teddy and his receivers. The best third down offense in the country against one of the best third down defenses is always fun to watch if you ask me.
KEY PLAYERS: MLB Terrance Plummer, S Clayton Geathers, S Brandon Alexander, CB Jordan Ozerities