Back at it again for another rousing rendition of the Countdown Q&A series where I tangle with the weekly opponent in the ‘Q&A Chamber of Chaos’ (working title).
This week I got to chat with Jeff from over at ‘Black and Gold Banneret’ where they discuss all things UCF. This week, it just so happens they’re talking about Louisville (funny how that works), so I joined in on the fun. Lets get at it....
Louisville and UCF spent a season together in the ‘American Athletic Conference’ and played in what one may argue is the most impactful win in UCF program history back in 2013. The win spring boarded the Knights to a conference championship and a Fiesta Bowl appearance later that season. Since that game these two teams have had a zero win season, a two win season, a Heisman trophy winner, and a national championship. A roller coaster of emotions, if you will. Catch the casual Cards fan up with what UCF has been up to in the last couple seasons and any BIG (12) news on the horizon.
Things have been going well. Since that evening in the ‘Ville, we won two AAC titles, then went 0-12, then hired Scott Frost, and won 25 games in a row and a share of the national title. Although we still mourn the loss of our Heisman candidate, McKenzie Milton, we’ll take credit for launching the Legend of Joe Burrow. We’ve come back to Earth a bit since then, but we sold high on Josh Heupel, who’s now at Tennessee, and brought in Gus Malzahn. So far, so good: two wins, a rejuvenated program, and an invitation to the Big 12 are a nice way to start the fall.
While a tad premature to make bold statements about the season as a whole two games in (looking at you Cards fans) the Knights have handled business at home the first two weeks against Boise State and MethU-Cookman (checks notes) close enough. What’s your takeaway on the first two games? Can you pull anything meaningful out of them?
Yes. This team is much different than the Air Raid Knights of Josh Heupel. I know, it’s against Boise and Bethune-Cookman, but UCF is 11th in the nation in rushing right now, and the key has been the offensive line, which returned everyone from last season, and the addition of Isaiah Bowser, a senior transfer from Northwestern who has shown the perfect mix of speed, patience, and power that a Gus Malzahn offense needs. He had 171 yards on 33 carries in the opener, and scored a school-record-tying 4 TDs last week. Aside from the slow starts, about everything you’d want to see go right has gone right for UCF so far. But this is a different test on the road against a quality opponent.
The Knights have put up some crooked numbers in both games this year with a fairly balanced attack. What can you tell us about the offensive side of the ball, and we will hate Dillon Gabriel more than Blake Bortles by the end of Friday night?
Heh - Possibly. Like I said above, this is a more balanced attack than what we’ve seen of late, but that balance has allowed Dillon Gabriel to show more of his true talent as an all-around weapon at QB. Everyone knows about his arm and his decision making (67 TDs to just 13 INTs for his career), but Gus’ offense gives him the freedom to run when needed, rather than forcing him to stay in the pocket and throw - Hence, last week’s 44-yard-but-actually-like-120-yard TD run. So I don’t know if you guys will hate DG by the end of the night, but you could very well be in awe of him.
Louisville, while showing a few signs of life last week, has struggled to get rolling on offense. Who on the UCF defense will look to keep the Cards from putting the pieces together?
UCF’s front seven is the strength of the defense, and it’s a good thing since the secondary is very inexperienced. The key guys are Kalia Davis, a massive DT (6-2, 310) who opted out last year and has come back with a vengeance (and is also a hell of a gamer). On the outside is Big Kat Bryant, a grad transfer from Auburn who has caused havoc in the backfield for opposing passers so far despite not recording a sack - yet. If Bryant and the outside guys can set the edge like they did in the second half against Boise, Malik Cunningham is going to have a bad day.
With the recent announcement of UCF to the Big 12 what’s a future rivalry or individual game you’re looking forward to? Any road trips you’re pumped to make?
I’m glad we’re going in with Houston and Cincinnati. We’ve had some quality games against them over the years, and I think our universities share a lot of commonality culturally - big state schools in metro areas who have fought their ways to where they are now, including winning NY6 bowl games. As far as current Big 12 teams, West Virginia fans have been quite a whiny bunch on Twitter ever since the rumors started, so I’d like nothing more than to bring them down a peg or two. (editors note: agreed)
As far as road trips, believe it or not, I’d like to check out Morgantown, Waco (that stadium looks beautiful), Stillwater, and Lawrence, especially come basketball season.
At the time I’m writing this UCF is a seven point favorite on the road, coming to Cardinal Stadium for the first time in eight years. Not something many saw coming three weeks ago. How do you think this one plays out on a warm Friday evening in Cardinal Stadium where the beers and sodas are (hopefully) flowing without issue?
Low 80s and sunny is just how we like it! I do think this will be a tight one for at least the first half. Road games anywhere are tough to win. But if the defense can at least keep Cunningham from running around the stadium like a maniac, and the offensive line can control the trenches and allow Isaiah Bowser to wear out Louisville’s defense, UCF should pull away late. I’m thinking 38-26 or something around that.
Big thanks again to Jeff for swinging by and sharing his distain for West Virginia fans. I can see the true character of this man in a single sentence, and I’m a big fan. If you also want to be a big fan feel free to go follow the ‘Black and Gold Banneret’ on twitter and feel free to check out the weekly podcast (even if they didn’t invite me on this week) as they discuss tonight's contest. Here’s hoping the Cards can start a win steak tonight and show signs of life on both sides of the ball as we head into conference play. Go Cards.