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Tuesday's Thoughts

Looking ahead to the East Carolina game, there’s one primary way the UCF defense can take control and dictate to the Pirates, and that’s to make Holton Ahlers fear the pass rush.

ORLANDO - A new weekly feature will be Tuesday Thoughts which will detail situations for the Knights upcoming game. This week’s information stems from watching the East Carolina versus South Carolina game during week two of the 2021 college football season.

After breaking down some film against East Carolina, there were some surprising tendencies from the Pirates' starting quarterback, Holton Ahlers. Here’s what he did several times, and how UCF can create that same situation this next Saturday.

Watch The East Carolina Quarterback as He Drops to Throw

When he’s feeling antsy, he locks onto receivers. That’s when he literally just turns his head and follows a receiver, that’s when Ahlers finds himself in trouble. Against South Carolina, a team with some legitimate NFL talent on defense, Ahlers struggled because the pass rush bothered him.

Once he started anticipating the pass rush, he began to make pre-snap decisions. As a general rule, that’s a horrible idea. If there’s a progression pattern for a signal caller, he needs to follow that progression pattern even if that means taking a hit. Therein lies the issue.

Ahlers had enough.

He did not want to be sacked again. Understandable, but that’s part of being a FBS quarterback. You will be leveled from time to time. Ahlers threw a pass towards the sideline that he watched the same receiver the entire route. Result became predictable.

Interception for South Carolina.

Do Not Let Up

Bottom line, there needs to be an early portion of this Saturday’s game where the Knights make Ahlers move his feet and look away from his receivers. Not just one time, but several times. He will likely play poorly thereafter if the Knights hit him early and often.

If the Knights do not cause Ahlers to feel uncomfortable, he’s quite accurate and can slice a defense into pieces. Ahlers will even make off-platform throws, i.e. connect with receivers while running if he’s feeling comfortable. What he cannot do well would be to make more than one move consecutively. He’s a modest athlete, but not one that’s going to make jump cuts or shake-and-bake his way to gaining several rushing yards.

That’s why UCF needs to force him to move forward in the pocket towards UCF’s best defensive player, Kalia Davis

UCF

Defensive tackle Kalia Davis can be a handful in the middle of the defensive line.

Much like it will be with many quarterbacks, forcing the signal caller to move his feet but not leave the pocket, where there’s likely some chaos near his feet, can create poor decisions, sacks, and of course interceptions. Here’s a great play to reference with regards to Ahlers being picked off.

Second Example, Interception for a Touchdown

Late in the first half, East Carolina needed roughly 20 yards to make it into field goal range. Ahlers attempted a middle screen. One problem. He felt the rush and just threw it forward. Horrible pass that was intercepted by South Carolina linebacker Damani Staley and returned 63 yards for a touchdown.

Instead of going up 17-0, the game quickly turned with a horrible pass by Ahlers. At 14-7, he actually helped to bring South Carolina back into the game. The Gamecocks struggled mightily to score in that game, and went scoreless through halftime. South Carolina eventually won a game it should not have won by the score of 20-17.

Read More

Who Steps up for UCF, and How does the Defense Pressure Ahlers?

The Knights need to get after him early in the game. Will it be with four-man pressures without blitzing? Perhaps the Knights come after him with zone-blitzing schemes, or just play man defense in the secondary and come after Ahlers with traditional blitzes.

It’s debatable. Perhaps the Knights will identify two primary concepts, test them both, then continue with the more successful scheme for rushing the passer the rest of the game. Whichever scheme comes about from the UCF coaches, the players need to bring Ahlers to the ground.

Final Thoughts

Ahlers can really throw the football. He’s a lefty with a deft touch; that’s the case when he’s not pressured. Under duress, this signal caller not only misses, Ahlers will cause himself and his team serious problems by throwing interceptions.

It’s now up to UCF to go after Ahlers and make sure he plays with “happy feet” each time he drops back to pass when the Pirates visit the Bounce House this next Saturday night.

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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