ORLANDO - The Knights travel to play Navy today, and Inside The Knights brings its game prediction right here. With the unusual nature of the option alone, there are areas to cover that go outside the norm, and then there’s the issue of quarterback Mikey Keene making his first college start.
UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn and his coaching staff will need to make some adjustments with a new signal caller behind center, but that will be much easier considering Keene's playing style is one of a mobile quarterback. He fits what UCF likes to do anyway.
With the game being on the road and Navy off to an 0-3 start, there’s reason to believe that the Midshipmen will come out and play their best game of the year. While possible, there’s also a reason Navy started this season winless.
The Midshipmen are dead last in the FBS with just 10 points scored per game. That stat stems from the following two statistics as much as any others: allowing 28 tackles for loss and allowing 16 sacks.
Again, it’s only three games. Remember those statistics as the Knights take the field this afternoon. There’s no reason to believe Navy will suddenly be a good football team. Here is today's The Daily Knight podcast detailing the matchup:
Now onto categories to watch, beginning with the Knights' running game.
UCF Rushing Attack
Look for the Knights to be physically dominant against Navy. Forget Keene and being a true freshman. Even if Dillon Gabriel stood behind center the UCF offense would be running the football.
Any UCF running back should have running lanes; the Knights are bigger, stronger, and more experienced than Navy within the trenches. They will take advantage, as a unit, of Navy’s lack of overall talent and run the football right up the middle. There will be perimeter runs, yes, but the Knights will make plays between the tackles first and foremost.
Of note, look for Johnny Richardson to pop a run or two. He’s electric with the football, and Navy will not be able to match his speed and quickness. Richardson goes for over 100 yards today, regardless of whether or not Isaiah Bowser starts and/or plays.
There will also be a good dose of Wildcat, which quarterback Joey Gatewood will do a good job of operating bu plowing over and around Navy defenders. Overall, the UCF rushing attack will be consistent and explosive.
Knights Create Big Passing Plays
Whether it will be a screen, a shallow crossing pattern, or a deep ball over the top, look for UCF to maximize its passing attempts and create big yards against a Navy defense that allows 33.3 points per game. Much of that scoring stemmed from allowing passing yards.
Navy gives up 9.0 yards per attempt, which would be a bad sign for the Midshipmen as they play an explosive group of wide receivers today. Keene will hit a few long passes, and his playmakers will create yardage after the catch, too.
Expect Brandon Johnson to be the mismatch Navy does not handle well, as his long frame will be beneficial against the smaller Midshipmen cornerbacks. He will be a helping hand to the new quarterback overall, not that he needs much help.
Do not fret about Keene being a first-time college starter or being a freshman. He will be just fine. This is not a typical freshman signal caller.
UCF Handles Option Attack Well
The Navy rushing attack will have its moments, but those horrific lost-yardage plays will rear their ugly heads yet again for the Midshipmen because UCF will create too much penetration. Kalia Davis, UCF’s talented defensive tackle, will be the hardest player for Navy to block.
There will be no answer against the defensive tackle. He will be today’s defensive MVP by recording multiple tackles for loss and at least one sack. With Navy needing to adjust to Davis, as well as just not being athletic enough along its offensive line, look for other UCF defenders to come free including one talented linebacker.
Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste will play well, particularly on the edge of the defense to help pin Xavier Arline towards the middle of the field and from escaping the pocket. Jean-Baptiste will stay active, and he will probably move around to different spots before the snap. He’s a smart player that will adjust when needed.
Overall, UCF’s athletic linebacker core will chase down the Navy runners and mitigate big gains. It’s going to be hard to keep moving the ball 10 yards at a time, and the UCF linebackers will be a major reason why Navy’s offense will struggle again today.
Secondary Takes on New Role
Against Navy, the secondary will need to tackle well, keep their man in front of them, and take advantage of any misfires from Arline or any other passer Navy might place into the football game. There may only be five to 10 passes thrown today, so tackling will be the biggest category to do well. Still, there’s a chance for a pass to be taken the other direction.
Look for at least one interception today. Navy will fall behind, and they simply do not pass very well when an opposing defense knows what’s coming. Navy’s offense works because of deception. Without it, there’s going to be problems moving the football.
The secondary will be in position to make some plays, with at least one being a picked off pass. While a unique game for the UCF defensive backs, it should be productive.
The Knights will lead at the end of the first quarter, at halftime, and at the end of the fourth quarter. From start to finish, UCF will be the better football team as expected. A rushing attack that smacks Navy in the mouth leads the charge on offense, and the defense will be too big and too athletic for Navy to handle.
UCF 45 Navy 20
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!