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Saturday, September 6th, 7:00 p.m. (et)
From The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The UCF Knights put their seven-game home winning streak on the line this weekend, as they collide with the 17th-ranked South Florida Bulls at Bright House Networks Stadium.
Coming off one of the best seasons in school history, the Knights opened their 2008 campaign on a high note, blanking Football Championship Subdivision member South Carolina State, 17-0. It was the first shutout since 2001 for the UCF, which stretched its home winning streak to seven games. The win also improved the team to 3-1 in season openers under head coach George O'Leary, who guided the Knights to the Conference USA title in 2007.
As for USF, it also hosted a FCS opponent in its opener, easily defeating Tennessee-Martin by a 56-7 score. The Bulls, who have now won three straight lid lifters, enter the season with lofty expectations after being ranked as high as No.2 last year.
USF and UCF have met three times previously on the gridiron, with the Bulls winning each encounter and by a combined 122-43 score.
The Bulls scored 28 points in the first quarter and never looked back in a lopsided win over UTM last weekend. The team had its way with UTM, racking up 520 total yards, including 300 via the run. Quarterback Matt Grothe engineered the offense by completing 6-of-8 passes for 96 yards and two scores. He added 19 rushing yards, but only played in the first half due to the large lead. Grothe is a big time talent and a dual threat that passed for 2,670 yards and 14 touchdowns, while rushing for 872 yards and 10 more scores in 2007. Benjamin Williams paced the ground attack with 70 yards and a score on just six carries, while Jessie Hester hauled in three balls for 50 yards and two touchdowns.
It was an impressive effort by the offense, but head coach Jim Leavitt knows that his team will be facing much tougher opponents the rest of the way.
"I do recognize that we have got different teams ahead," said Leavitt. "I'm sure that Tennessee-Martin will be good in their league, but that's not what we are going to be facing. I am proud of our players. They did what they came out to do, what they needed to do, and I think we did a pretty good job."
Much like the offense, USF's defense was simply dominant, holding UTM to a mere six first downs and a minuscule 97 yards of total offense. The defense only came up with one turnover and sack, but the unit did limit UTM to just a 1-of-14 effort on third downs. Getting to the quarterback though, shouldn't be a problem for the Bulls this season, especially with the return of George Selvie. A big time passer rusher, Selvie had 14.5 sacks last season, although he was held in check with just three tackles in the opener. Tyrone McKenzie notched the team's lone sack last weekend and he also finished with five stops.
The Knights lost several key players on the offensive side of the ball this offseason, so it wasn't a huge surprise to see this unit struggle a bit in the opener. Still, facing a much lesser opponent UCF managed just 318 total yards in a 17-0 win over SCSU. The Knights did most of their damage on the ground, rushing for 228 yards, but coach O'Leary still wasn't impressed by the performance of his backs despite the high total.
"I wasn't pleased with the way that the running backs ran. I thought there were too many times that they running backs ran with their shoulders facing the wrong way. They need to learn to cut on the move, and not stop."
Ronnie Weaver paced the ground game with 84 yards on 23 carries and Michael Greco added 57 yards on 13 totes. Freshman Latavius Murray got into the mix as well, posting 43 yards and a pair of scores on 11 totes. The trio are trying to fill the void left by Kevin Smith, who departed early for the NFL after leading the nation with 2,567 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns in 2007. Making his first career start, quarterback Michael Greco wasn't all that effective and he threw for just 90 yards on 9-of-16 tosses. Greco still has a lot to learn, but O'Leary wasn't all that thrilled with his opening performance.
"He has to make quicker decisions and have confidence in his throwing ability. He needs to throw the ball on time, and to the right spot. He needs to throw it to an area, and trust the receivers to be there."
Defensively, the Knights are loaded with returning starters and they showed their experience in completely shutting down SCSU this past weekend. The unit held SCSU to only 52 rushing yards and just 74 passing, while also recording a pair of turnovers. The defense didn't even spend 22 minutes on the field, as UCF allowed only five first downs. Jordan Richards guided the defense with seven stops, while Chance Henderson added six tackles. T.J. Harnden chipped in with three stops and also accounted for the team's lone sack. The Knights are stacked on defense and this unit is going to have to play above their heads in order to compensate for a young offense.
Bragging rights are on the line in the Sunshine State this weekend and that should have both teams ready for a battle. USF however, clearly has the better offense and that will make the biggest difference in this game. Expect the Bulls to move the ball and even dominate on defense en route to the victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Florida 34, UCF 7
09/03 12:11:12 ET