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The Daily Knight: UCF's Defense Must Improve by Finalizing Plays

It’s time for the UCF defense to take the next step. The statistics do not lie. The Knights did not finalize plays by creating more sacks and turnovers.

ORLANDO - The first quarter of the 2021 season has come and gone. It’s time to statistically evaluate the UCF defense and see what they did well, and what needs to be improved upon. Thus far, too many close but not quite good enough moments took place for the defense.

That’s the overall theme. It needs to change. There’s also reason for optimism based on the players that continue to be a part of the defense. There’s size, speed, athleticism, and experience. Plus, it’s only been three games.

So what’s needed to improve?

Inside today’s podcast of The Daily Knight there will be a closer look at national statistics and where the UCF defense ranks. Here’s the traditional podcast and the YouTube version follows:

Here are some talking points about where the UCF defense did well, or not so well, so far during 2021.

**The Knights applied pressure to the quarterback several times through three games. That’s true. What the UCF defense did not do, however, would be complete the play.

Through three games, the Knights rank dead last in the FBS with one sack, tied with Vanderbilt. Edge defender Josh Celiscar recorded UCF’s only sack of 2021 against Louisville. There have been countless other opportunities to bring down the quarterback.

Whether the improper angle to the quarterback was used, not breaking down to make a play when the quarterback attempted to move away from the rush, or even just making the tackle when the quarterback was in the grasp of a UCF defender, all of these scenarios played out during the first three games.

Moving forward, that cannot happen. It just cannot.

**UCF’s rush defense did well to date, ranking No. 13. Sans the game against Louisville, UCF smothered its opponents. Will the Knights do better after the Louisvill game?

Louisville was able to gash UCF with perimeter runs and quarterback Malik Cunningham reaching the second level of the defense with his legs. That cost UCF dearly. Further, the Knights only created four tackles for loss against Louisville. That was a Cardinals unit that struggled to consistently run the ball prior to playing UCF. 

Hopefully Navy provides the remedy and the Knights find their way into the backfield this Saturday.

From the first three games, the Knights allowed 78.3 yards rushing per contest. That’s really good. Let’s see how UCF does against a Navy team that will run the football all game long. There will be one prime area to improve upon based on the Louisville game.

Will UCF respond by doing a better job of containing the quarterback and wing backs? Navy’s triple-option attack will be a schematic shift, yes, but more importantly it’s still about assignment football.

The Knights did a poor job of keeping Cunningham in the pocket; a chance for redemption comes by way of suffocating Navy’s outside rushing attack. If UCF does a good job of making the Midshipmen run between the tackles because the quarterback cannot make plays outside the tackle box, it will be a long day for the Midshipmen. That might just be the key to the game.

Make the Navy offense stay between the tackles. It’s just not a talented enough group for UCF to lose the game if Navy does not create chunk-yardage plays from option pitches to the wing backs and the quarterback keeping the football as he goes around the end and heads up the field.

**The UCF pass defense simply must find a way to get their hands on the football more often. To date, the only defensive back with an interception would be Dyllon Lester. That’s not good enough.

UCF defensive back Dyllon Lester can play cornerback or safety. He continues to improve his pass coverage skills and will be a valuable member of the defense moving forward.

UCF defensive back Dyllon Lester can play cornerback or safety. He continues to improve his pass coverage skills and will be a valuable member of the defense moving forward.

A good defense finds a way to take the football away. UCF failed to do that so far. Considering the talent available on defense, the secondary included, it’s disappointing.

Just pondering the speed and athleticism playing for the UCF defense, it’s hard to grasp why the secondary did not produce more turnovers. Moving forward, that’s likely the No. 1 priority to improve.

The Knights rank No. 113 in passing defense by giving up 276 yards per game. That number will certainly drop after playing Navy, a team that runs the football more than any other UCF opponent.

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**Moving forward, the most important statistic needs to be turnovers. UCF intercepted three passes through three games. Need more. The Knights recovered none of the three fumbles that occurred so far. Zero.

UCF’s defense needs to be more opportunistic. Losing out on turnovers changes the outcome of games. The UCF defense must finalize within this category more than any other.

**The total defensive statistics are somewhat misguided and not necessarily indicative of what’s really going on. Bethune-Cookman really did not attempt to run the football, and it helped UCF’s rush defense. On the opposite side of the ledger, that same game saw a lot of passing so UCF’s passing defensive statistics took a hit.

The Knights permitted 354.3 yards per game. That should be considered a solid defensive effort.

Final Thoughts

There needs to be something that allows the UCF defense to get over the proverbial hump. What is it? Sacks, interceptions and fumble recoveries aside, there needs to be a defining moment where the UCF defense plays well as a unit and all the aforementioned categories come together. Let’s see if that happens against the Midshipmen.

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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