Story by Evan Abramson
If you were on social media at all on Saturday night, the most surprising thing you would have probably noticed was seeing 31-year-old Detroit Tigers utility player Andrew Romine playing all nine positions in a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins.
But the second most surprising thing you probably saw was UCF caging and handling the Memphis Tigers.
It was a battle between some of the best teams from the American Athletic Conference’s East and West divisions. A battle of two undefeated teams fighting to enter Sunday’s AP Top-25 poll for the first time this season.
Well, it wasn’t really a battle, as much of a massacre between the momentum-carrying the No.25 Knights (3-0) and the claw-less Memphis Tigers (3-1). Tigers aren’t a normal sight to see in Orlando but a household cat is, which is more accurate of what we saw on the field at Spectrum Stadium.Embed from Getty Images
I’m not trying to brag, but I’m going to brag. For the second straight week now, I have correctly called UCF Football’s performance, beating everyone in the Hitting the Field group, with the exception of maybe Zack Winiecki. People called me crazy for saying UCF would beat Maryland, a Power Five team.
Yes, Maryland’s second-string quarterback left in the beginning of the game with an injury that now has him out for the entire season. But you have to remember, Maryland is also known for its excellent rushing game and strong offensive line. Both of which was more than easy for UCF to contain. But people also said I was crazy for thinking UCF would beat Memphis. However, I don’t think anyone could have seen UCF embarrassing Memphis as they did tonight.Embed from Getty Images
Whether it was putting up 603 total offensive yards, holding the Tigers to only 14 points, or keeping sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton as one of the few quarterbacks in FBS college football to not be sacked once this season, it’s safe to say the Knights are not going down easily anytime soon. ESPN has UCF ranked No. 19 in its latest Week 5 Power Rankings. And by the way, the Knights landed ahead of both USF and UF.
But one thing you have to remember about UCF’s potential historic season is that not playing Georgia Tech has been a blessing in disguise. Who knows what would have happened if UCF had played Georgia Tech (3-1), who smashed UNC (1-4) 33-7 Saturday night. And while I’m sorry, Jeremy Tache, I’m not completely confident UCF would have been able to get revenge for you, even though UCF has been playing without fault. But don’t worry, Jeremy, UCF junior defensive back Mike Hughes, a former UNC player, is a key factor for UCF’s success on defense. He claimed his second interception of the 2017 season Saturday night, while also making some big tackles and pass-break ups.Embed from Getty Images
And it’s because of the strong play of everyone on the team, including Hughes, that UCF’s chance of not only going undefeated this season has increased, but also its chance of winning The American title and going to a big New Year’s Six bowl.
Milton looks 100-times better than he was last year. His decision making and pocket awareness has led to more first downs, bigger plays, an improved rushing game, and most importantly, less turnovers. His statistic of not being sacked once this season is just the cherry on top for his improvement. And the sophomore, who still has two more years at UCF, has also learned how to throw the ball better and lead his team.Embed from Getty Images
Redshirt-junior wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith seems to become a play-maker in every sense of the word in every game we’ve seen him in this season. And he’ll only get better. But the receiving game also supported by a diverse group of talented tight ends isn’t the only group of players to dominate their opponents.
Despite losing now redshirt-sophomore Jawon Hamilton to an injury against Maryland, the Knights have been comfortably cushioned by its running back core led by junior Taj McGowan, sophomore Adrian Killins Jr., and even freshman and future astronaut Cordarrian Richardson.
Killins showed the country that he is really fast (watch out, Usain Bolt). And he is not only really fast, he also has some moves and clearly has some endurance. Running the ball 96-yards down the field to break a couple of school and conference records takes some skill, but he wasn’t done. The sophomore went on to score again, supported by an offensive-line that seems to be exceeding all expectations.Embed from Getty Images
But the defense is the real story. While head coach Scott Frost is dealing with love letters from Nebraska and growing the offense into a constantly improving machine, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has created a weapon, which pesters more than President Donald Trump’s Twitter account.Embed from Getty Images
Chinander and redshirt-senior linebacker Shaquem Griffin have created a defense that not only forces turnover after turnover, but can consistently stop teams on third-downs and force unusually-low amounts of offensive yards. Now yes, Memphis did put up 396 yards, but I really do think the future New York Jets linebacker (please join the family, Shaquem) will help the Knights shut down teams that run successful option-type offenses-Navy-or overrated offenses -USF.
In three games so far, the Knights have put up 139 points while only allowing 40. And this includes the six-points Memphis squeezed in at the very end after UCF already started to celebrate with a second or two left on the clock. UCF has put up 1,618 total offensive yards and held opponents to a total of 928-yards. UCF has produced 76 first downs and they’re 16-20 from the red-zone. The Knights have held opponents to 8-37 third-down conversion attempts and the UCF offense has only committed three total turnovers off two interceptions and one lost fumble. Meanwhile, the Knights have forced and recovered four total fumbles and intercepted opponents six times.
So, what does this all mean? Well, UCF is good. Like, 2013 Fiesta Bowl year good. And if you are wondering if these have been just some fluke games, then stay tuned and pay attention to two big games, Navy (4-0) and USF (5-0). Because those are the only two remaining teams that stand a chance in spoiling UCF’s fun on the gridiron. And the way the Knights have been playing, I’d say UCF can claim wins against both.
Featured image courtesy of HerCampus.