Game day is finally upon us. Boise State travels from Idaho to visit the Sunshine State and take on UCF. Here is a look at how the game will unfold, with an emphasis on specific players and situations.
Note: The team that creates the most chunk yardage plays and/or does not make huge mental errors will likely win. There will likely be many drives stalled by each offense simply not executing at a high level. It’s the first game, and that’s to be expected.
This will be a game marred by early miscues, especially during the first quarter when emotions will run high. False start penalties, mishandled passes and blocks, poorly attempted tackles, and at least one special teams blunder are good bets.
There’s also going to be rain in the Orlando area again on Thursday, so the moisture could play a role with players losing their footing; rain during the game is also not out of the question. It’s Orlando. The weather forecast almost always includes a chance of a shower, and Thursday will not be an exception.
After the teams begin to settle down late in the first quarter through the early portion of the second quarter, expect to see much better football; also look for more offensive fireworks.
Players to Watch - Boise State
**It will not be long before the Boise State coaching staff finds a way to place the football in the hands of wide receiver and all-around talent Khalil Shakir. He’s going to be involved with the passing game, as well as the running game, to ensure he receives chances to make an impact even if the Knights double cover him.
One way or another, look for Shakir to reach the end zone at some point during the game. To that point, Shakir should be expected to hit at least one play of 30 or more yards. He’s really good and a likely future NFL player.
**A very intelligent quarterback, Hank Bachmeier will take advantage of coverage mistakes and keep the chains moving. He might start the game slowly, but Bachmeier will find his groove before halftime. Bachmeier can carry Boise State if he gets hot. The Knights will need to multiple with their pass rushes and overall defensive looks because the Boise State signal caller is a very savvy player.
**Boise State will have the services of running back George Holani returning to the lineup. He ran for over 1,000 yards during the 2019 season. Holani only played in three games during the 2020 season and when he was not in the lineup it hurt the offense. He’s a tough and instinctual runner that will give the Broncos an added boost and help allow the Boise State offense to be more balanced than last season. Boise State averaged a porous 3.3 yards per carry last season.
**Boise State’s defense will be stingy at times, but it will struggle to consistently stay up with the UCF wide receivers. To help offset that challenge, one edge for the Broncos could be with nickelback Kekaulu Kaniho. He is going to be lined up against several different wide receivers, and possibly running backs, in the slot. Kaniho proved to be one of Boise State’s best defenders the past two seasons, so the slot versus nickel cornerback battles should be very good and could favor Boise State.
**Boise State edge defender Shane Irwin must be accounted for during each play. He will be a problem for UCF no matter how UCF decides to block him, so look for multiple blocking schemes. Will the Knights double team Irwin and/chip him with another player like a running back or tight end? Irwin’s six sacks in seven games during the 2020 season will make Irwin one of the game’s most important players.
Players to Watch - UCF
**Quarterback Dillon Gabriel will be a big-time player all season long, the Boise State game included. No question he’s going to make an impact. Look for him to be in distributor mode for much of the evening, meaning he’s going to be patient with what the Boise State defense allows him to do. There will still be deep passes, but Gabriel’s understanding of defensive mentality and coverages has grown since he arrived in Orlando from Hawaii.
Look for No. 11 to be clutch when he needs to make a pinpoint pass to any given receiver that’s open. Most notably, Gabriel’s accuracy and intelligence will allow the Knights to continue to make first downs when it matters most, during the fourth quarter.
**UCF running back Johnny Richardson will be involved in the Knights’ offense one way or another. He’s a blur heading around the corner so expect to see him involved with screens, jet sweeps, outside zone, and any play call that allows his speed and athleticism to be an issue for Boise State. Richardson should be expected to create at least one long run and/or pass reception. Hard to prepare for this young player’s speed in practice.
**Wide receivers across the board will be important to watch, but the chess match for how Boise State defends Jaylon Robinson comes to mind first. Double team Robinson? Let’s see what happens.
Robinson is going to get the football, but can he get over the top and use his speed for a game-changing score or field position-changing play if he sees double teams for much of the evening? Look for that big play to happen regardless if it's a bomb, short crossing route or simple screen. Robinson is a special player and he’s the best friend of Gabriel. They will figure it out.
**Instead of a player, it’s the entire UCF offensive line. This is an experienced unit with starters returning across the entire front line. That advantage should allow UCF to run the ball better than Boise State; that’s one of the most important notes for the entire football game.
**Watch out for the tall edge defender that’s sculpted like a defensive end should be. If anyone does not know about this man by now, they soon will. The “Big Kat” will be hunting quarterback on Thursday night. Bryant will be the most unique edge rusher Boise State faces the entire 2021 season.
**Really focused during fall camp, linebacker Tatum Bethune will lead the Knights in tackles against the Broncos. Additionally, Bethune’s athleticism will allow him to be used creatively during passing downs.
Defensively, the award will go to Kalia Davis, the senior defensive tackle that’s back in action after sitting out the 2020 season. A bull at 6’2, 310-pounds, he will not accept being blocked, command double teams, and still make his share of tackles. Because of the efforts of Davis, other UCF players along the defensive front will be in one-on-one situations far more often than not. Therefore, Davis’s impact will extend beyond the stat sheet. Here is an example of the athleticism Davis possesses.
Offensively, look for Ryan O’Keefe to earn that distinction. Chunk plays change games and O’Keefe’s speed will be a difference-maker against single coverage. Look for at least one long pass reception and touchdown from the talented Austin, Texas talent.
The Knights will struggle to secure the victory until late in the game. Gabriel will be the field General that leads the Knights to a late four quarter touchdown, putting the game out of reach for Boise State.
Due to the weather, the original score prediction of 31 - 27 was extended. UCF will be better prepared to play in the wet and muggy weather than Boise State.