ORLANDO - The Knights will be going on the road to play the Cardinals. It’s a game with matchup intrigue; Louisville’s inconsistent offensive line attempting to rebound against UCF’s front seven would be a prime category to follow.
Can Louisville’s offensive line play better than it has thus far? Too many missed assignments and a lack of a consistent push in the running game could spell trouble against the Knights. When the Cardinals pass the football, however, perhaps there will be more success.
UCF’s pass defense allowed too many easy perimeter throws against Bethune-Cookman, at least during the early portion of the game. The Knights tightened up in the secondary as the game moved forward, and linebacker Tatum Bethune also intercepted a pass from Wildcats signal caller Shannon Patrick. The Knights trended in a good direction with their pass defense as the game moved along.
Each college football game provides different twists and turns as it relates to momentum-changing plays. Some of that momentum can be due to sentimental reasons, too. For a closer look at the game, here's a YouTube video discussing several UCF and Louisville objectives from the game:
UCF starting defensive lineman Ricky Barber hails from Louisville, Ky. He played at Doss High School, just 6.7 miles from the University of Louisville campus. Mr. Barber will certainly be fired up to play in front of his family and friends when returning to his home city this weekend. There are also intriguing aspects of the game when the Knights take control of the football.
Through two games, junior quarterback Dillon Gabriel passed for 630 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s 48 of 73 for a 65.8 completion percentage. He’s a true football general, knowing when and how to help the Knights matriculate down the field five yards at a time, or taking advantage of big plays when the defense makes a mistake like placing a cornerback one-on-one against wide receiver Jaylon Robinson.
That one-on-one matchup this week could feature Louisville cornerback Kei’Trel Clark, the Cardinals cornerback that already recorded two interceptions. Can the Cardinals keep Robinson out of the end zone if Clark takes on Robinson for the majority of the game?
The schemes utilized and the players that come to the forefront can be fun to discuss, Robinson and Clark included. Above all else there’s still one category that must be mentioned.
When a team goes on the road for the first time during a college football season, protecting the football is essential to victory. UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn glowingly discussed how all the different quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers did an excellent job with ball security against Bethune-Cookman during the 63-14 blowout win. That same level of performance will be needed against the Cardinals.
Two quarterbacks will certainly need to protect the football. Gabriel started off with two interceptions against Boise State, but he really played well this past Saturday against Bethune-Cookman. He was poised in the pocket, ran when needed, and created opportunities for his team to score. Gabriel's long 44-yard touchdown run was the additional surprise, as he’s not been known as a runner. His counterpart is harder to define.
Malik Cunningham, Louisville’s redshirt junior signal caller, can be dynamic. He’s also known to make a big mistake. Last season, Cunningham threw 12 interceptions. Through two games in 2021, Cunningham only threw two touchdown passes, but just one interception.
If Cunningham protects the football, even if the Cardinals punt the football at the conclusion of half their possessions, the Cardinals stand a chance to win against UCF.
Cunningham must be consistent with protecting the football. Same with his teammates, but it starts with Cunningham. He’s a touchdown waiting to happen during an option play or when he launches a pass deep down the field to a receiver like freshman Ahmari Huggins-Bruce. Overall, Cunningham just needs to be careful when and where he throws the football as even one turnover can be costly.
Providing Gabriel and the explosive UCF offense a short field and/or extra possessions via interceptions, would likely be disastrous for Louisville.