ORLANDO - Here’s a look at how UCF and East Carolina did through the first 30 minutes of action, beginning with the Knights’ rushing attack.
UCF Rushing Attack
Through two quarters, the Knights rushed 13 times for 79 yards. Running backs Johnny Richardson and Mark Antony-Richardson provided a good one-two punch at running back by combining for eight rushes and 70 yards, including Antony-Richardson going around right end for 26 yards during his first and only carry of the first half.
Overall, Mikey Keene was accurate. However, he simply did not create any chunk-yardage plays. He was hindered by a key drop from Ryan O’Keefe, but that’s the only true drop of the first half.
With East Carolina playing mostly cover-two defense (two deep safeties), the Knights threw numerous short passes. The Pirates did a really nice job of rallying to the football, however, and UCF’s offense was really ineffective when passing the football.
Keene finished the first half 13 of 19 for only 72 yards, a paltry 3.8 yards per attempt.
There were lineup changes for UCF that had not been seen through the first four games. The Knights started Josh Celiscar at defensive end, Cam Goode at defensive tackle, and true freshman Brandon Adams at cornerback. Here are some other notes for UCF’s defense.
**While he did not start, cornerback Corey Thornton did return to the field of action. He has been out since colliding with Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham in the first quarter three weeks ago.
Knights Playing Much Better Defense
Finally, the pass rush showed up. The Knights recorded three first half sacks, including back-to-back sacks by Big Kat Bryant and Celiscar during East Carolina’s last possession of the first half. On the very next play, UCF defensive tackle Kalia Davis was injured. He needed to be helped off the field. His status for the second half is unknown. As for UCF’s rushing defense, it was pretty good.
The Knights did a fabulous job of bottling up ultra talented East Carolina running back Keaton Mitchell during the first quarter. He rushed four times for only eight yards. Further, he fumbled during the opening drive of the game once the Pirates reached the red zone.
During the second quarter, Mitchell rushed three times for 14 yards. Holding a player that averaged 9.6 yards per carry coming into the game to seven carries for 22 yards is impressive.
Here are other key defensive notes:
**Next to the last play off of the half, linebacker Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste intercepted a pass from Holton Ahlers just past midfield.
**The Knights held East Carolina to three of eight on third down.
**Celiscar was the beneficiary of that fumble by recovering it near the 10 yard line. The fumble was caused by defensive end Anthony Montalvo.
**Senior defensive tackle Noah Hancock saw action during the first drive of the game.
**Defensive tackle Ricky Barber warmed up in pads, but was not dressed during the first half. He’s a really valuable player and perhaps that’s why Hancock saw more action.
**The improvement from sophomore cornerback Davonte Brown began to show itself within the first three games, but against East Carolina, Brown looked to have taken another step forward. He played really aggressive defense from the first snap from scrimmage, blowing by a block attempt from an East Carolina wide receiver and breaking up a screen.
Brown later did a really good job of staying with a wide receiver during a bomb that could have gone for a touchdown. He also made a nice open-field tackle on East Carolina wide receiver Tyler Snead. For the Knights to improve on defense, players like Brown need to continue to improve. He certainly played his part against East Carolina during the first half.
**Linebacker Tatum Bethune deflected a pass just over the line of scrimmage and almost intercepted it with about 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter. Those are the types of “almost” plays that need to become turnovers for UCF to become a really good defensive unit. It's still a good play, but could have been a game-changing play.
**As an extension of the defense, UCF punter Andrew Osteen booted a 50-yard bomb that flipped the field with 7:15 remaining in the second quarter.
Halftime score: tied at 3-3.
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