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UCF Players that Must Step Up Versus East Carolina

There will be unique challenges for UCF this week with East Carolina and their dynamic running back, Keaton Mitchell, coming to Orlando. The defense for the Knights needs to be ready, and Mikey Keene needs to create opportunities for his playmakers.

ORLANDO - Will the Knights be able to adjust to a spread offensive attack predicated on speed instead of the triple-option attack of Navy? It’s a big philosophy shift for the UCF defense.

Offensively, the Knights need to be ready to score. East Carolina’s offense scored 42, 31, and 52 points during their last three games. UCF must be able to counter the Pirates offensive output with their own firepower, and that means big plays.

Starting with the defense, here are the players, as well as one particular position group, that need to step up versus East Carolina to help the Knights come up with a victory.

Armstrong Must Help Lead the Way

After recording an incredible 10 solo and 12 assisted tackles versus Navy, Bryson Armstrong simply must be the defensive player that leads the way. His production and effort shows itself on the gridiron. That’s obvious. What must be assumed would be his attention to detail. Navy’s triple-option attack caught many UCF defenders off guard, but not Armstrong.

Whatever that man does to prepare for an opponent, perhaps he can be the player on the field that helps other players be just as prepared as himself. Knowing formations and what’s likely coming, recognizing a new wide receiver in the lineup and projecting what route he will likely run, or simply understanding the best way to handle the defensive play call that just came in from the sidelines, Armstrong needs to lead.

Bryson Armstrong (#30) finds the football and makes tackles

Bryson Armstrong (#30) finds the football and makes tackles

He also plays a position that aligns with another key position group for this next game, and that would be safety.

He’s an extension of the secondary playing the Knight position, a hybrid linebacker/safety. Armstrong will be in a position to discuss East Carolina running back Keaton Mitchell and how to handle him with other UCF defensive players, safeties included.

The Pirates will try to test the edges of the defense where the safeties must help out, as well as likely send him on a few wheel routes and deep pass patterns where the safeties will be involved with the play. Mitchell is one of the fastest players in the country and UCF’s safeties will be challenged with helping to bring him to the ground several times during next Saturday’s action in the Bounce House.

All the UCF Safeties Must Key on Mitchell

Point blank, this will be more about the opposing player more than the UCF safeties, but they are the last line of defense, making them pivotal for the game against East Carolina.

The UCF safeties have played well against the run for much of 2021, but this game will be unique. It’s a totally different challenge than any other game because of the sheer speed that will be running at them by way of jersey number 25. The safeties that need to be ready for extra run support in addition to the linebackers, which almost always need to play the run as a first priority.

That’s how talented this young man truly is. Watch the following video. It provides insight into Mitchell’s speed.

There might only be one, perhaps two plays that Mitchell escapes the linebacker level. When it happens, the safeties must be immediately ready to strike Mitchell before he can make a jump cut or other move. If not, it’s really hard to tackle this man one-on-one because he’s also quite strong. Tulane failed to properly tackle Mitchell last week and it cost them dearly, i.e. poor eagles and arm tackling will not get it done.

Just cannot say it enough, the UCF safeties must step up as the last line of defense and make sure a good run by Mitchell stays at 10 or 15 yards. Those moderate gains are going to happen. That’s okay but they cannot turn into very long touchdown runs. There’s one more defender to discuss.

Bryant Needs to Play up to His Ability

For the first four games of 2021, Big Kat Bryant recorded zero sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss. Against Navy, a team that has absolutely nobody along its offensive line with similar talent to Bryant, he did not record a tackle for loss. Bryant did record seven tackles overall, but more is needed from this edge defender. Here’s an example.

He whiffed during a reverse when he had the wide receiver dead to rights after reading the play properly. Bryant cannot miss on that play. He is too experienced, too talented, and too passionate about football to play that way.

It’s time. He’s as talented a player as UCF has on its roster. He must start creating game-changing plays. Time for top-notch production from Bryant, beginning with East Carolina.

Moving to the offense, it starts at quarterback.

Keene’s Opportunity is Now

Fair or not, this true freshman quarterback will be placed in the crosshairs against East Carolina. Forget passing the football for a moment. How Mikey Keene handles blitz pressures, changing coverages, and whether or not he exploits mistakes by a mediocre East Carolina defense will be on center stage.

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Obviously he cannot turn the football over. That’s obvious. Keene must also be able to hit downfield shot plays. UCF needs a more balanced attack against East Carolina, and deep passes will be the added ingredient to make that happen.

Look for wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe to be the player Keene attempts to get the football to, as well as Amari Johnson. Both of them can run by a defense. Even if it will be simple drag routes five yards in front of the line of scrimmage, if Keene hits either of these receivers in stride it can lead to a touchdown.

Same thing with running back Johnny Richardson. To allow those types of simple plays work, Keene’s mental approach needs to be sharp. Recognize what East Carolina’s defense shows pre-snap, then audible if necessary to help place the football in the hands of players like O’Keefe, Johnson and Richardson with the chance to by dynamic after placing the football in their hands.

It would also help if Jaylon Robinson was back for East Carolina, but there’s no news about his return just yet. Inside The Knights will report on injuries after UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn’s Monday press conference.

More Richardson, Please

Against Navy, the UCF offense held the football for just over 20 minutes of the game. That’s not going to be the case versus East Carolina. With that in mind, UCF’s own lightning bolt should receive more touches, as well as him being ready to handle more of the running back workload.

Richardson carried 11 times for 59 yards, a 5.4 average. He’s also averaging 7.4 yards per carry on the season, rushing for 193 yards so far in 2021. Time to feed this young man the football, especially if Isaiah Bowser cannot go against the Pirates.

At minimum, Richardson needs 15 touches against East Carolina. Let them chase a rabbit much the same way the UCF defense will be chasing Mitchell. Perhaps Richardson will show the college football world just how talented he truly is.

For UCF insights, college football news, and recruiting information go to: The Daily Knight podcast. It will be found on iTunes and Spotify. For more 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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