Examining one of the most experienced units for the Knights, the offensive line provides a unique opportunity to gather data and watch film from inside perspective and not really worrying about what the opposition will do. In fact, this is one of the rarest situations one will find.
Few offensive lines return five starters, and fewer yet also return a two-year starter at quarterback that knows the unit that is set to protect him. With Offensive Line Coach Herb Hand now leading the unit, it will be interesting to see how the offensive line performs against Boise State. It will likely be a strong barometer for the remainder of the season.
Playing as One?
The above outlined Question could be written as a statement. Then it would be the goal for an offensive line during each play. It’s the reason the offensive line can be difficult to teach. Attempting to align two players to work with one another can prove arduous, but positioning five offensive lineman so that they all play well with one another, that’s one of the hardest jobs in athletics.
With a starting unit that’s already familiar, however, as well as a unit that will likely see all five players at least be in their third year of college, it’s probably a good assumption that the Boise State defensive line will not be running free at quarterback Dillon Gabriel. There still needs to be two questions answered.
How quickly did the Knights offensive lineman pick up the coaching and schemes from Coach Hand?
Will the starting offensive line be able to establish a consistent inside running game to help Gabriel with play-action passes and the run-pass option (RPO) game?
The two questions go hand-and-hand. They will be detailed at the bottom of the article.
Ready to Dominate?
Straight to the point, will this be a unit that simply imposes its will on the Boise State defensive front seven? Also, does the UCF offensive line not allow blitz overloads, stunts, or any other line games to conquer the Knights’ rushing attack?
The answer to that second question will be important for the Boise State game, as well as the rest of the games this season. Teams will try to throw UCF’s offensive schemes off with different line games. It’s inevitable. Additionally, Boise State brings in a new coaching staff just like UCF. There could be some hidden defensive play calls so the Knights better be ready.
How Well Does UCF Protect Gabriel?
Surprisingly, the Knights allowed 21 sacks last season. Now, the Knights needed to throw the football more than the prior coaching staff probably wanted, allowing defenses to really run after the quarterback. Still, the 21 sack total needs to go down. With this unit knowing each other quite well, and Gabriel gained even more experience last season, the sack total should drop. There is a starting point for this discussion to better understand what needs to happen against Boise State and every other team the Knights face.
As long as the offensive tackles -- Sam Jackson and Edward Collins -- play to their capabilities, their pass protection will keep Gabriel’s jersey clean the vast majority of the time. That results in many options for interior double teams on opposing defensive tackles, which is the preferred way to pass protect for most offensive line coaches. There’s also a play call that will also assist the offensive linemen with pass protection for Gabriel.
The RPO can be a weapon beyond just hitting big plays.. It’s a way to offset what a defensive coordinator might call against a talented multi-dimensional quarterback like Gabriel and the UCF offense. If a defense still comes with aggressive packages and/or play calls, there's a good opportunity to make defenses pay.
The RPO will probably be a major focus for UCF this fall. The combination of Gabriel and the offensive line being in sync with one another, as well as the ability to use the RPO, look for fewer sacks in 2021. There is one intriguing question about pass protection.
There are five good starters, yes, but any other players that will rotate into the lineup?
For Coach Hand and the offensive staff, it would be good to know about the depth first-hand as opposed to only seeing the backups during practice.
Offensive Line -- High Confidence
This should be a very good unit this season. There’s no question about that. Will it be a great unit? That’s the more difficult question to answer. The two questions above discussing how well the offensive line adapts to coach Hand and the inside running game/RPO game could be the key to the overall question of whether the offensive line will be a great unit.
To that end, offensive guard Cole Schneider will be a prime reason the inside rushing attack gets going against the Broncos. He's a really good run blocker so watch for him when the Knights go right at the Boise State defense.
It’s hard to run inside zone. There’s limited space, big bodies, and just about every team in college football operates with that play on the play sheet. Defenses know it’s coming; it’s just a matter of when. If the offensive line can block that play well, it changes the narrative of play calls for the Knights and the defense for UCF opponents.