UCF Knights running back Latavius Murray (28) runs against Marshall Thundering Herd safety D.J. Hunter (22) during the second quarter at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. (David Kohl-US PRESSWIRE / October 27, 2012)
Back from the road, UCF has plenty to protect at home on Saturday night when the host SMU. A win would go a long way in making the road to the Conference USA championship easier, taking pressure off of a road trip to Tulsa.
Every Thursday we will take a look at two key areas – one offense and one defensive – that could play an especially key role in Saturday’s game. Today, we’ll examine the key match-ups against the Mustangs.
Knights offensive line vs. SMU run defense
Latavius Murray has been a monster since returning to full form and being inserted into the feature back role. He has runs touchdown runs of 42, 75 and 83 yards and another 50-yard run that set up a two-yard score. He has rushed for 348 and scored six touchdowns in the past two weeks. Major credit there obviously goes to the offensive line, which has gotten a great push up front and sustained blocks. That will be vital against an SMU defense that ranks tops in the conference in run defense. The Mustangs are allowing 119.1 rushing yards per game, and 3.7 yards per carry this season. SMU has allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans had 123 yards rushing. Since Week 4 the leading rushers have had, respectively, 42, 67, 18, 54 and 55 yards. It is vital to the success of the UCF offense that Murray is able to get going to try to open things up down the field.
UCF secondary vs. SMU QB Garrett Gilbert
For the second straight week, the UCF secondary is under the spotlight. The Knights did a nice job of pressuring QB Rakeem Cato, and behind them the secondary played tight coverage and limited Cato’s windows to throw. Gilbert, a Texas transfer, seems to be hitting his stride in the past couple of weeks with SMU, and UCF must take him out of the game. Make any offense one-dimensional and it becomes a lot easier to win the game. In wins the past two weeks, it has been a re-invigorated Gilbert that led the way. Make no mistake, SMU has one of the conference’s better backs in Zach Line, but if UCF can take away the pass early by winning some one-on-one battles in the secondary, they will be able to commit an extra defender in the run game to slow Line.
A quickie look at how the teams compare, statistically:
UCF rushing offense (182.9 yards per game) vs. SMU rushing defense (119.1 ypg.)
UCF passing offense (238.8 ypg.) vs SMU passing defense (282.8 ypg.)
UCF scoring offense (36.0 points per game) vs. SMU scoring defense (26.6 ppg.)
UCF third down conversions (47%) vs. SMU third down defense (41%)
SMU rushing offense (117.5 ypg.) vs. UCF rushing defense (141.2 ypg.)
SMU passing offense (267.2 ypg.) vs. UCF passing defense (213.0 ypg.)
SMU scoring offense (31.8 ppg.) vs UCF scoring defense (21.4 ppg.)
SMU third down conversions (38%) vs. UCF third down defense (37%)
UCF turnover ratio (15-12, +3) vs. SMU turnover ratio (27-18, +9)