Orlando - The Knights need to do a great job of tackling in space against the USF skill position players. There are several different ways that USF attempts to place the football in the hands of their best players, and if the UCF defenders make a mental error it can lead to big offensive plays.
Here’s a look at the players that UCF fans should know about from USF’s offensive skill talent, beginning with the passing attack.
USF Passing Game
The Bulls operated from the spread formation this season. USF will move the pocket, run a variety of screens, and place signal caller Timmy McClain in positions where he can run or pass the football.
For the Bulls, they will attempt to get the football in space, much the same way UCF does. There’s definitely one particular player that USF attempted to get the football to this season, however.
Although he’s battled a hamstring injury this season, junior receiver Xavier Weaver still provided explosive plays. He’s recorded 37 catches, a 17.3 average, 640 yards, and two touchdowns.
The 6’1” 173 pound receiver also went to USF by way of playing at Orlando (Fla.) Christian Prep, so he’s likely to be especially fired up to play UCF seeing as playing in the Bounce House is a homecoming of sorts. The Bulls also have two smaller, swiftier-types of receivers to be concerned about.
Freshman wide receiver Jimmy Horn came into the 2021 season at 5’9”, 170 pounds. He played with McClain at Sanford (Fla.) Seminole. They know one another well, and it’s a major reason why Horn adapted to playing with the Bulls quickly.
He’s caught 27 passes for 353 yards, a 13.1 average, and one touchdown so far this year. When Horn caught the football this season, he made defenders miss and ran by several other players. He’s capable of taking a five yard pass and going the distance after making two or three defenders look bad during one-on-one tackling situations.
Like Horn, wide receiver Omarion Dollison may not be the biggest player at 5’9”, 183 pounds, but he can be a player that creates havoc in space. The sophomore caught 24 passes for 202 yards this season, but has yet to score a receiving touchdown.
At tight end, USF’s Mitchell Brinkman is the big-bodied player with the power to be a lead blocker, or he can sneak out into the flat and catch a defense off guard with a clutch third down reception. He will not likely be a focal point for the Bulls based on his season totals of 10 receptions for 151 yards, and one touchdown, but he’s a part of the Bulls’ offense nonetheless. When the Bulls ran the football from the running back position this season, there’s definitely two players they handed off to more than anyone else.
Bulls’ Rushing Attack
Junior running back Jaren Mangham provided a challenge for opposing teams to bring down. He’s a 6’2”, 221 pound runner that started his collegiate career with the Colorado Buffaloes by way of Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech. The well traveled Mangham played as a power player for the Buffaloes, and continued to do so for USF.
He’s a one-cut downhill runner. Once this young man plants his foot in the ground after deciding which exact direction he wanted to go, he was a tough runner to bring down. A good forward lean and a stout frame to match allowed him to rush 139 times for 578 yards, a 4.2 average, and 15 touchdowns this season.
Mangham failed to rush for a touchdown during only three games this season: at North Carolina State (Sep. 2), Houston (Nov. 6) and at Tulane (Nov. 20).
The key to at least slowing down Mangham would be making him move laterally. Once he gets a head of steam up, he’s hard to tackle. Like many big running backs, he’s not at full speed until about step three. The Knights need to create penetration to help get him off track. He’s not nearly as formidable when he’s moving side-to-side or if he needs to stop and start.
The second running back provided more shifty and elusive skills, and that would be Kelly Joiner, a junior. He’s 5’9”, 186 pounds, and Joiner accumulated 75 carries, 472 yards, a 6.3 average, and two touchdowns.
When the Knights attempt to bring down Joiner, they will need to truly break down and make form tackles. He’s a really good athlete. He toted the football 14 times for 126 yards and a touchdown versus Temple, and also rushed 12 times for 103 yards against East Carolina.
Joiner did not receive as many carries versus Cincinnati and Houston during back-to-back games, but last week he played well with 15 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown versus Tulane. There’s one more running back that might see action against the Knights.
The Bulls’ third leading rusher this season would be running back Brian Battie, a 5’8”, 165 pound athlete that’s capable of producing big plays similar to Joiner. With 56 carries for 318 yards, Battie averaged 5.7 yards per carry so far in 2021. He’s scored one rushing touchdown.
This combination of size from Mangham, plus the quickness from Joiner and Battie allowed USF to have some solid moments running the football this season. It’s still been somewhat of a struggle to consistently run the football the last three games, however, as the Bulls produced just 110 rushing yards (4.1 average) against Houston, 121 yards (2.7 average) versus Cincinnati, and 123 yards (3.1 average) against Tulane.
To that end, UCF will likely crowd the line of scrimmage during first downs in an attempt to make the Bulls pass the football during early downs because USF prefers to be a running team first.
That would be McClain, the starting quarterback. He’s a capable passer and an extremely gifted athlete that can make defenders miss in space. He’s not at all afraid to take off and create with his legs at any time.
To learn more about McClain, here’s a feature article about his running and passing skills.
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