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Countdown Q&A, Week 2: Central Florida

Central Florida v Stanford Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

We’re back for Week 2 of the Countdown Q&A series, and since last week went so swimmingly across the board for all parities involved, fans, coaches, staff, players...we’re gonna run it back. Speaking of “running it back” how about our guy Jaylin “Mr. Pick Six” Alderman getting a shot to replicate the big play from 2021 as the Cards once again take on the University of Central Florida Knights.

This week I reached out to Jeff Sharon over at ‘Black & Gold Banneret’ and he was so kind to offer his time once again to preview the game, and give some additional insight from the other side of the fence. The Knights have a new QB and some other new talent that didn’t get to experience a loss to Louisville last year. We should really let them join the club.

If I said I wasn’t a bit shell shocked from the Cards Week 1 performance I’d be lying to you, Jeff. Not sure what that game was or what to expect this week as we head to a crazy environment where I’d assume the fanbase is riding pretty high from what they saw last Thursday night. What’s the overall vibe heading into Friday nights contest?

UCF Spring Game Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Cautious optimism. The big story heading into this year was what would happen with the QB position, and Ole Miss transfer John Rhys Plumlee won the job over Mikey Keene, who won 7 of his 10 starts after last year’s Louisville game when Dillon Gabriel got hurt, including the bowl win over Florida. But Plumlee hadn’t started at QB since 2019, having lost the Ole Miss job to Matt Corral once Lane Kiffin came to Oxford. The results were spectacular: 300 passing yards, almost 100 rushing yards, 5 total TDs and a 56-10 win. But that was against FCS South Carolina State. Now comes the biggest test yet against what we imagine will be a rather ticked-off Cardinal squad after last week’s disaster in central New York.

The Cards certainly benefited from the transfer portal over the summer, adding nine players on both sides of the ball who we saw show up all over the stat sheet in Game 1. With that said, UCF may have one-upped them in terms of overall production as you got quite a bit of help from “new blood” last week. Who are some of the new faces who weren’t on the sidelines to witness the “pick-six” last year in Louisville?

Plumlee of course, but also two new wideouts, Javon Baker from Alabama and Kobe Hudson from Auburn, and TE Kemore Gamble from Florida. We also picked up a few highly-touted linebackers in Jason Johnson, KD McDaniel and Walter Yates, and two experiences offensive linemen in Ryan Swoboda and Tylan Grable. That said, that’s a lot of new guys to plug in and build chemistry with in a short time. There has been some uneven-ness in the LB corps and the offensive line. Hopefully that works out by Friday night.

One of the shocking things from Louisville’s Week 1 no-show was the lack of offensive production. The staff pointed to some unique blitz packages and the 3-3-5 scheme Syracuse runs as part of the issue. Please tell me your defense is very vanilla with zero pressure and zero talent or else I’m afraid we may be in the same position just six nights later.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 UCF at Navy Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You are not in luck, I’m afraid. Defensive Coordinator Travis Williams (who we all believe will be a head coach sooner rather than later somewhere) runs a hybrid defense that has not one but two players who move back and forth between positions depending on the situation. Tre’Mon Morris-Brash has excelled as a hybrid DE/LB pass rusher, and we have several players in what we call the Knight position, which is a hybrid outside LB/free safety slot. UCF’s scheme was rather vanilla in the opener and they still completely confused SC State last week, giving up fewer than 100 yards on defense. Combine that with your patented Florida speed and the Bounce House noise factor and I’m glad I’m not Malik Cunningham.

I was perusing (what, people use that word) the old ‘Black And Gold Banneret (people don’t use that word)’ earlier this week and saw that pre-season predictions had the Cards as the fourth most feared game on the schedule behind Memphis, Cincy, and SMU. If you redid that poll today where do you think they would land? And what still makes you nervous about this matchup?

I think it would be the same. I picked UCF over Louisville and I stand by that prediction based on what I saw last week. That said, I do not think Louisville is as bad as what we saw last week. Gus Malzahn said the greatest improvement for every team each season is between Games 1 and 2. That goes for both squads. I think this one is going to be tight.

The Cards lead the series 2-1 overall but that “1” on the UCF side is a pretty daggun’ big “1”. What’s your recollection, if any, of the 2013 contest? And if that was pre-UCF fandom for you, what’s your favorite ice cream flavor (please talk about ice cream, please talk about ice cream, please talk ab-…)?

2013 was the big coming-out party for UCF in the first year of The American. We beat Louisville on national TV in dramatic fashion, coming back from down 28-7 midway through the 3rd and effectively canceling Louisville’s coronation party as that season’s BCS crasher. I recall watching the game here in Orlando with several friends and thinking after it was 28-7, “Welp, we blew another big game on national TV.” But then something happened, and it was like the entire karmic aura of the program changed. We came back and won on Jeff Godfrey’s TD catch, and all of us were in shock over what we just saw. Most of us were used to us “UCFing the game,” as we’d like to say. But that … didn’t happen. A 12-1 season and Fiesta Bowl victory later and we were on the national map. People like to point to 2017’s undefeated national championship season, but I like to think 2013 was the real springboard for the program. So, thanks, I guess?

P.S.: If you’re in town, visit Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream and grab yourself an Ore-dough. That’s my favorite.

So the Knights get a long week playing last Thursday (9/1) and the Cards get a short week playing last Saturday (9/3) but both of them should be amped up to either keep an outside shot alive for a NY6 bowl or to avoid an 0-2 start heading back home against a hot FSU squad. How do you see this one playing out in the ‘Bounce House’ on Friday?

I think we’re going to get a much more determined Louisville squad, and a much less conservative UCF squad on Friday night. Both teams are aware of the stakes this early in the season, especially the Cardinals, and I’m a big believer in being acutely aware of the more desperate team. I think UCF has the advantage in the running game, and this season’s game will not be the Murphy’s Law contest that last year’s was, where we lost about half our starters to injury at one point or another. To quote Jonesy from The Hunt for Red October, “This one’s gonna be CLOSE!”


Big thanks again to Jeff for his time and his answers. Please go check out the smooth melodies of the ‘B&G Banneret’ both on the web and over on twitter. You can also follow Jeff on the twittersphere right here. They cover it all and do a great job at it. I like the Hunt For Red October quote from Jeff so I’ll leave you with one of my own... “You’re afraid of our fleet. Well, you should be. Personally, I’d give us one chance in three. More tea anyone?” Go Cards.