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Areas to Improve as UCF Hosts Bethune-Cookman in Week Two

As the Knights move to week two of the college football season, there are offensive and defensive areas where they can improve.

From one week to the next, UCF Football needs to continue to progress. Bethune-Cookman will be the next opponent. That simply means the Knights need to get to work during practice this week and continue to make progress before game time.

Once Saturday arrives, a few areas need to look better than last week. Here’s Inside the Knights take on the areas UCF needs to work on leading up to the game against Bethune-Cookman.

Passing Game Needs to Continue to Improve

The passing game did a nice job of hitting big plays and moving the sticks, as Dillon Gabriel threw for 318 yards. His 67.6% passing rate will be happily accepted by the UCF offensive coaching staff and Knights fans alike, too. Even with his big numbers, three items in particular need to be improved upon for the Knights' passing game overall

**First, the two interceptions. The first one Gabriel later admitted during the post-game press conference that the football slipped out of his hand. Okay. Fair enough. The second interception, however, was a poor read by Gabriel. That’s something that an inexperienced quarterback might do, but it’s not acceptable for an intelligent and experienced signal caller like Gabriel.

**Next, it’s time to really ramp up the screen game. UCF possesses some of the most electric wide receivers and running backs in college football. To help them produce more explosive plays, it’s a matter of timing and checking into the proper play.

Screens can prove to be difficult because of so many moving parts, such as offensive linemen running to the perimeter to time up blocks against defensive backs, but the dividends can be fruitful if those linemen succeed. Just one excellent block could spring a long touchdown for a player like Ryan O’Keefe or Titus Mokiao-Atimalala. This list does not end with wide receiver talent either.

UCF running backs like Isaiah Bowser and Johnny Richardson can break tackles and make defenders miss with the best of college football running backs. In short, UCF simply needs to get the screen game going because it will augment the running game and help to slow down an opponent’s pass rush.

Getting Isaiah Bowser the football in space will make the UCF offense more potent. Screens are one way to make that happen.

Getting Isaiah Bowser the football in space will make the UCF offense more potent. Screens are one way to make that happen.

**Finally, continue to involve the tight ends within the passing game. Alec Holler caught his first pass and scored his first touchdown during the same play against Boise State. Along with fellow tight end Jake Hescock, getting them involved makes it harder for opposing defenses.

Case in point, Holler was wide open coming across the middle during the play he scored. Boise State did not even account for the tight end on that play. Until teams begin paying attention to the UCF tight ends, find ways to get them the football a little more often. Holler ended up with two receptions, 29 yards and the one score against the Broncos.

RPO Game Can Improve

Gabriel showed that he’s a willing runner, accounting for 64 rushing yards from 12 carries. Teams will need to start adjusting to his newfound running ability; that will aid the run-pass option (RPO) game quite well.

When teams challenge Gabriel as he approaches the line of scrimmage, he’s talented enough to still make accurate throws on the run. Further, he can just bypass a called running play and quickly throw the football. RPO plays are a variety of opportunities, and Gabriel can now really expand those chances with such a good first game of running the football.

Defense Played Well Overall, but Tackling Must be Better

It’s common for a team to go through a poor stretch during game one. It could be just about any category. For the Knights, it was missed tackles. Boise State’s skill talent gave the UCF defenders problems during one-on-one tackling situations, especially during the first quarter.

As the game wore on, the Knights settled down and performed better. Against Bethune-Cookman, being more consistent with tackling must be a priority. There will certainly be difficult matchups when Bethune-Cookman comes to the Bounce House.

Running back Que’Shaun Byrd can really scoot, and that speed helped him account for 98 yards rushing from 12 carries last week against UTEP. He’s also a major reason why Bethune-Cookman came close to pulling off the upset, eventually losing 28 to 38. UCF defenders will need to break down and make sound tackles against Bethune-Cookman in general, and especially with the quickness of Byrd.

Defensive Back Play Needs Players to Step Up

While the Knights held Boise State to four of fourteen on third down, the cornerback and safety play needs to tighten up even more. Some of the key passes from Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier came on first and second down, and the Broncos wide receivers separated too easily from the defensive backs. UCF defensive backs simply did not defend some of those passes as well as it should have.

Technique, attention to detail and playing as a unit all come into play with defensive backs. Which cornerbacks and safeties step up and start getting their hands on more passes to create deflections?

While not an easy task, even one or two more passes defended can change the outcome of a football game. Interceptions help, too.

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Of course, at the end of the Boise State game, cornerback Dyllon Lester intercepted Bachmeier at a crucial juncture to help preserve UCF’s victory. Perhaps that play was an omen for even better defensive back play moving forward.

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