Friday Night Bites: Gut check time in Provo
Your weeknight teaser before the Saturday onslaught:
Central Florida @ Brigham Young, 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN): Who have you got in this battle between the bloody-minded, revenge-seeking team from Orlando and the bloody-minded, revenge-seeking team from Provo? I like the side with the extra features on its quarterback.
BYU is 1-2 in its first year of football independence, with a close loss to Texas and a not-close loss to Utah following that squeaker of a win at Ole Miss in Week 1. No, Bronco Mendenhall has not fired any coaches yet, but we've got months to go. The Cougars need things to happen fast, before losses to teams from Conference USA and the WAC (well-regarded teams, but still) doom their flight from the nest. In Provo, in primetime, they have a shot to regain their footing after giving up 54 points in their rivalry game, but the target isn't an easy one. UCF will come in angry as well after dropping a game to an FIU squad that operated without its best player for the better part of the game; the Knights have a passing defense that has barely missed a beat all season, and all BYU has to throw at them is Jake Heaps.
You have to feel for Heaps, who was tossed into a dicey situation as a freshman starting for a proud program. He's an easy scapegoat after fumbling twice and throwing a pick against Utah, but he's getting no help on the ground from the nation's 118th-ranked rushing offense. And he's not alone in his inability to hang onto the ball when he needs to: BYU committed seven turnovers last week, bringing it to 10 for the season, good for a No. 105 national ranking in turnover margin. Whether he'll get picked apart by the Knights, however, is far from certain. While UCF boasts the nation's top-ranked pass defense and the No. 2 overall defense, its first two games consisted of romps over FCS patsy Charleston Southern and woeful Boston College, so it's hard to believe we've seen what the Knights are really made of yet.
A good showing from that anti-passing unit tonight will emphasize that UCF belongs in the national conversation. The team must also protect quarterback Jeff Godfrey, a second-year starter on whom both aerial and ground scores are hinging. And BYU might want to put a body or two on him when the Knights get within shouting distance of the goal line: Godfrey has amassed 468 passing yards in three games, but all six of his touchdowns have come on the ground. Both schools got slapped around a bit in Week 3, and a half-interested national audience will be tuning in tonight. I think this is what we're supposed to call "gut check" time in Provo.