ORLANDO - Football is still a line of scrimmage game. Up front, in the trenches, is where the Knights will need to win this upcoming Friday evening. Louisville will present a different level of speed and quickness than the first two opponents, so every detail for the UCF players will need to be carried out along the line of scrimmage to help limit what the Cardinals do to run the football.
Being assignment sound, tackling well, and making the Cardinals convert third downs will be the recipe for winning the first road game of the 2021 season.
Veterans Lead the Way on the Road
Experience. Going on the road for the first time this season, it’s good that six of the seven players starting within the front seven of the defense are juniors or seniors. It’s a group led by defensive tackle Kalia Davis and defensive end Big Kat Bryant, two seniors, along the front.
On the other side of the football, Louisville’s offensive line is also an experienced group, with four of the five projected starting offensive lineman being juniors or seniors, but that’s not the case at the skill positions.
From the wide receiver corps, Louisville’s first two games saw one senior, one junior, two sophomores, and two freshman catch passes. Those younger players will need to be ready to battle because the experience of UCF’s front seven could make it hard for the Cardinals to consistently run the football. The Knights have given up 44 yards rushing in two games.
Any routes that are run incorrectly, any dropped passes, anything at all could hinder the Louisville offense more than normal when considering what the Cardinals running game will play against. Despite that fact, UCF’s pass defense must continue to improve. The Knights gave up two passing touchdowns to Bethune-Cookman even with a staunch run defense.
Allowing over-the-top bombs and jump-ball passes to go for touchdowns is a concern for the Knights. That’s the one definitive area that Louisville probably holds an advantage.
Statistics and Questions to Consider
The Cardinals will want to establish the running game. It’s been the formula for their success since current Head Coach Scott Satterfield took over the program after previously being at Appalachian State. Overall, it’s a football team with promise, but the Cardinals are still building the team despite a veteran quarterback in redshirt junior Malik Cunningham.
With the aforementioned UCF rush defense being so good, a few questions need to be answered about this game.
Can the Cardinals win if they cannot consistently run the football?
Will UCF be able to take away the running ability of Cunningham?
Do Louisville’s younger wide receivers make the plays necessary to change momentum and field position against UCF’s young cornerbacks, which in turn keeps the Knights from stacking the box?
Each of those questions will be directly impacted by how the Knights defend Louisville’s power football plays. Outside zone, inside zone, and eventually run-pass option plays that Cunningham has proved numerous times he can turn into touchdowns.
Player to Watch
The key running back for Louisville would be freshman Jalen Mitchell. He’s rushed 30 times for 139 yards this season, and he’s a powerful downhill running back at 5’10”, 220-pounds.
If he’s able to consistently gain four, five, or six yards per carry, that’s when Cunningham can create huge plays with his legs and his arm. As noted above, Cunningham operates the run-pass option quite well. He can turn a simple play into a long touchdown with any mistake from the defense.
That’s why stopping Mitchell from consistently producing rushing plays of four yards or more would be the No. 1 goal for the UCF defense. If Mitchell is limited running the football, Cunningham will find it more difficult to create chunk-yardage plays for the Cardinals.
Additionally, here’s a video detailing some of the overall key personnel matchups for the UCF at Louisville game: