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Defending Timmy McClain's Versatile Skills Key to UCF Defeating USF

USF quarterback Timmy McClain’s athleticism must be neutralized for UCF to win the War on I-4.

ORLANDO - UCF Football enters the final game of the 2021 regular season against USF with the more talented team, but it does not guarantee victory. The Knights come into the rivalry game with a 7-4 record, while the Bulls hold a 2-9 record.

Even with the disparity in records, a simple mistake can cost UCF a victory against USF. That’s especially a concern with budding freshman quarterback Timmy McClain being behind center for the Bulls.

Although he did not earn the starting nod until the third game of the 2021 season, now that McClain started nine times, he’s proven to be difficult for defenses to contain. In short, McClain’s athleticism allowed him to create plays as a passer and a runner for USF.

Here’s an overview of McClain’s statistics, as well as thoughts about what the Knights must accomplish to contain him. Let’s start with his best attribute, athleticism.

McClain the Athlete

McClain was listed at 6’1” and 196 by the USF Athletic Department, and that’s about the size he was last year in high school. He’s an athlete that could play any sport and excel in some way, shape or form.

This young man’s skills have already proven to be good enough that he could play free safety, cornerback, wide receiver or running back and it would not matter. As for football, he’s still learning from a quarterback’s perspective. That’s why his natural talent provided him opportunities to get out of many jams.

McClain has frustrated many a defender with his quickness and sheer athleticism to help extend plays, run for first downs, and make passes on the run. He’s grown as a passer, making him an even more dangerous athlete now than he was in September. Even when he did not run, McClain’s improvisation allowed him to gain more time to find a receiver, as well as get out of harm’s way.

He’s electric. Now, USF’s coaching staff has attempted to begin to refine those special skills and place them into the offensive scheme it operates.

Will this be the game that McClain finally puts it all together? Well, a look at his statistics suggest there’s just no telling what he might do against UCF.

Passing Statistics to Know

McClain’s passing numbers: 127/233, 1,666 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions.

The best passing statistical game for McClain was probably his third start versus SMU. He went 14/22 for 223 yards, averaging 10.1 yards per completion. That’s been the high water mark. McClain also had moments he would like to have back.

Timmy McClain beats defenders with his arm and his legs

Timmy McClain beats defenders with his arm and his legs

During USF’s last game against SMU, McClain and the offensive line did not fair all that well. He struggled to consistently find open receivers, completing just 15/27 passes for 132 yards and being intercepted one time. McClain did not pass for a touchdown against the Mustangs.

To date, he has not established himself as a true pocket passer. It may not matter if the Knights fail to play their assignments properly. Sooner or later, McClain’s skills will allow him to break out and score long touchdowns, running or passing, and that game could come against UCF.

As one can see from the statistics, it just depends on the game. Sometimes he’s on, and sometimes he’s not. Part of that stemmed from opposing defenses throwing different looks at McClain. He’s certainly capable as a passer, but making decisions too late because he was unsure of what he saw defensively likely caused issues with actually getting the football to his respective receivers.

When McClain did know where he wanted to go with the football, he was really good.

As the video inside the tweet above displayed, McClain’s accuracy can be spot on, but that’s just one example. Sometimes he missed on very similar throws this season.

McClain as a Runner

Rushing statistics: 105 carries for 255 yards, and three touchdowns.

Be careful after taking a look at those statistics. McClain already proved he’s a special athlete. Additionally, he’s been sacked numerous times and does not possess the overall talent around him that UCF does. Further, sack totals hindered his rushing statistics, as the NCAA counted those lost sack yards against every quarterback’s overall rushing numbers.

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After watching McClain dazzle the crowd as a high school senior last fall for Sanford (Fla.) Seminole, it’s somewhat surprising that his rushing statistics are not higher. Then again, as noted above, the USF coaching staff needs McClain to be an all-around signal caller and not a player that constantly creates plays instead of sticking with the play calls. That’s a similar situation to what UCF faced earlier this season.

Knights Already Played Against a Very Mobile Quarterback

McClain’s ability to run with the football and pick up first downs when he improvises cannot be overstated. He’s on the same athletic level as Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham. In fact, they are almost clones in terms of how they play. Cunningham’s experience being the biggest difference right now between the two quarterbacks.

Cunningham gave UCF fits all night long, and McClain could do the same. With that in mind, a statistical note about what can and cannot be allowed.

It’s okay for him to rush for 40 or 50 yards overall. It’s not okay for McClain to take one to the house from 40 or 50 yards. He’s proven to be more than capable of doing just that during his high school career.

What UCF Will Look to do Defensively

Even if it’s uncomfortable to do as compared to how the Knights defended most other quarterbacks, the UCF coaching staff will likely be quite careful about when and how they go about applying pressure to McClain. Once he breaks containment, he’s a nightmare.

That’s the case as a runner or passer. With each game he learned a little bit more, and he could go off for big numbers if the Knights do not make him earn every inch of the gridiron by mixing up coverages.

If McClain leads the Bulls on touchdown drives that take 10, perhaps 12 plays, so be it. The more plays he must be involved with, the more chances for him and/or another member of USF to make a critical error.

Do not be surprised if the Knights mix up a lot of zone coverage against McClain in an effort to make the young quarterback diagnose what’s in front of him, leading to late reads and possible interceptions. That’s a common way to play against young quarterbacks. The Knights could also spy on McClain.

Yes, a player that’s literally responsible for going wherever McClain goes. Maybe that’s UCF linebacker Tatum Bethune or perhaps it’s another player. Regardless of what UCF does schematically on defense, it must keep a body in front of McClain and make him uncomfortable.

To that point, at some point the Knights will likely bring different forms of blitzes. After a few blitzes, how those blitzes turned out will be a major factor in determining how UCF continues to attack McClain. Maybe it’s more zone, perhaps more man coverage mixed with bringing the heat.

Final Thoughts

McClain’s inexperience hindered him somewhat to date, but his natural talent and growing experience make him a priority for the UCF defense. As long as the Knights continuously keep McClain in the pocket and/or do not allow him to use his legs to gain first downs as a runner or passer, the Knights will be fine. If they are unable to contain McClain and where he moves and scrambles, however, look out. Winning the War on I-4 starts with defending McClain’s versatile skills.

For UCF coverage and recruiting information go to: The Daily Knight podcast. For more college football, UCF and recruiting information, go to Twitter: @fbscout_florida and @UCF_FanNation, as well as my YouTube Channel and Instagram page. Like and Subscribe!

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