ORLANDO - Whenever a team starts off 0-3 there can be a letup. After losing the Louisville game to place UCF’s record at 2-1, no letup can be allowed.
UCF needs to dismantle the Midshipmen. No matter the injury to starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel, no matter that the next man up behind center will be true freshman Mikey Keene, and no matter that the game will be played at Navy, the Knights will still be the far superior team when it takes the field against the Midshipmen.
Consider the following about the Navy Football team during its poor 2021 regular season start. The midshipmen average just 10.0 points per game, while allowing 33.3 points per game.
Those statistics alone define Navy’s woes. So does the fact that Navy played poorly last season, finishing with a 3-7 record, scoring 16.6 points and allowing 30.3 points.
That's bad football.
Those statistics also represent a prime indicator of why UCF should win this next Saturday afternoon’s game handily, but there could be pitfalls for any team that does not prepare for Navy and its triple-option attack, as well as knowing that Navy will match the effort of each opponent it faces.
Here are items to consider for the defense, offense and special teams, as UCF begins game preparation for the Navy Midshipmen.
For Defensive Players, Play Your Assignment
No freelancing. Absolutely none. Defending a team that operates triple-option football will be about the ability to stay focused play after play. Option football can be monotonous to watch, and definitely confusing to defend.
Do not make it worse by going away from the task at hand. That’s the key for each UCF defensive player.
Where’s the football? With all the fake handoffs and quick dives between the two B gaps alone, there’s little doubt that Navy will gain a few opportunities for big plays. Add in the possible reverses, quick tosses to the wing backs, and triple option plays and it’s definitely an offense to take seriously.
What cannot happen is continuously allowing Navy to to gash the UCF defense because of missed assignments. As long as the defense tackles well, plays assignment football, and adheres to the scheme against the Midshipmen, Navy will struggle to drive the football the length of the field and score points.
That will be why minimizing mental errors will be priority No. 1 for the Knights. Remember that point if and when Navy begins to consistently run the football. For years, the Midshipmen’s offense lived off an opponent making an error and then exploiting it. The game against UCF will be no different if the Knights do not play sound defense.
On Offense, Execute and Score in Bunches
Navy provides little threat in man-to-man coverage, and they are not going to be nearly big enough to handle UCF’s massive offensive line. Navy's defensive tackles are small, so keep that in mind. There’s no reason for the Knights not to pass and run at will. Yes, that includes having Keene as the quarterback. He will be just fine.
Even plays like Keene throwing a 10-yard out pattern will be relatively easy if the Knights stay focused. This game will be a physical mismatch; no two opposing positions fit that profile more than UCF’s wide receivers against Navy’s cornerbacks. Navy simply does not possess the talent to negate a player like Ryan O’Keefe or any other primary skill position player.
The Knights will be capable of moving the ball in a way similar to what it did against Bethune-Cookman. The size difference, as well as the playmakers outside for the Knights, should make it really difficult for Navy to scheme against UCF. That leads to the overall message the UCF offense needs to take into the next game.
Stay the course, much like the defense, and find a way to finish the game the same way it begins: with discipline and attention to detail. If the UCF offense follows this specific path, dropping 42 or more points on the Midshipmen defense should be expected.
Special Teams Fireworks
The Knights did not yet score a touchdown on special teams. This could be the game that it changes. A player like Johnny Richardson returning a punt or kickoff could be the answer, or even a player blocking a punt and a UCF player returning it for a touchdown.
UCF’s team speed should provide a huge benefit to the overall kicking game. Whether it’s covering a punt or bringing back a kickoff return, the Knights hold a distinct advantage with speed. During open-field situations, speed becomes even more important.
Player to Watch
Even if Isaiah Bowser is full-go for the Navy game, look for Richardson to see more touches from handoffs, as well as catching the football. He could also be a threat to score during one of the opportunities to return a punt or kickoff. Regardless of how it happens against Navy, Richardson should have at least one long “house call” for six points.
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