How can UCF contain Oklahoma State’s Ollie Gordon? | Analysis
There’s little doubt that UCF’s Achilles’ heel has been its run defense.
The Knights are No. 127 out of 133 Football Bowl Subdivision teams after allowing 211.8 rushing yards in their nine games. A closer look shows those numbers grow exponentially against Big 12 competition, with the team allowing 259 yards through six games.
Much of those yards have come on plays of 10-plus yards in which UCF has allowed 65. Twenty-two of those runs have been explosive plays (20-plus yards).
In the win against Cincinnati last week, the Bearcats had five explosive plays, with one coming in the second half. The majority of those runs went on the left edge, where UC totaled 140 of its 267 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
UCF defensive coordinator Addison Williams said that containing the edge has been a challenge.
“The biggest thing is setting edges and then just understanding who is setting it that edge whether it’s a defensive lineman, a defensive back, a corner, safety or linebacker,” said Williams. “There were five explosive runs in the first half, so that’s where most of the yardage came from. There was only one explosive in the second half.
“A lot of them happened early in the ballgame. So we made some changes at halftime to limit some of those and get the edges set better.”
The Knights need to do a better job of containing the run, especially against this week’s opponent: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are led by running back Ollie Gordon II, who leads the country in rushing with 1,224 yards.
Gordon has rushed for at least 100 yards in six consecutive games.
“The bottom line is we’ve got to stop the run,” said UCF coach Gus Malzahn. “This bunch runs the ball as good as any team in our conference. We know that so we need to keep improving.”
Along those same lines, UCF needs to improve on its tackling, too. The Knights have 76 missed tackles, 43 coming in the last four games.
Gordon has forced 46 missed tackles, according to PFF.
What was secret to UCF’s finishing vs. Cincinnati?
During its five-game losing streak, UCF would find itself in close games only to stumble in the fourth quarter.
In the win against Cincinnati, the Knights again found themselves in a close contest, leading 21-17 heading into the fourth. But unlike the previous five times, the team kept its composure.
“When the game was on the line, the guys were able to finish and that’s a big confidence booster,” said Williams. “We don’t want to end up in that situation, but as a team, just like the game ended, there’s a confidence booster and something we can lean on moving forward.”
The Bearcats cut the lead to 28-26 with 1:27 left but could not execute a 2-point conversion.
“We just kept battling,” said Malzahn. “In one game, the offense may not play well and the defense needs to step up or vice versa. Just [stick with] that team approach and that’s been our message all last week. It’ll continue to be our message.”
That will be crucial against the Cowboys, who are favored by 2.5 points at FBC Mortgage Stadium.
Who will play center?
Three games remain on the schedule and UCF continues to tinker with its offensive line.
Injuries and schematics have played a role in the Knights using as many as eight players on the frontline. No position has been impacted more than center, where Drake Metcalf, Caden Kitler and Bula Schmidt have rotated.
Metcalf started his fourth game against Cincinnati but struggled with several bad snaps against a stout defensive front. He was replaced midway through the game by Schmidt.
“[The Bearcats] were very good up front and it was a situation where we’re trying to get the best five out there,” said offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw. “We’re going to mix and match the O-line during the game to whatever we need to do to win.”
Fifth-year senior guard Lokahi Pauole said it’s been challenging for the group.
“I played with [former center] Matt Lee for the past three years and having a new center rotate every every week is kind of crazy,” said Pauole. “You just roll with it. It goes to show how well and tight our bond is in the room and being able to take whatever friendships we have off the field and just be able to make it work on the field, too.”
Rotating offensive linemen is nothing new for Hinshaw, who has seen his fair share of groups during 25-plus years of coaching.
“You would love to have one center the whole time, and we knew going into the season there were going to be some situations where we would have to move some guys around to get the best five out there to find ways to win in this league.”
Despite the changes, UCF didn’t allow a sack for the first time all season and helped provide key blocking that allowed running back RJ Harvey to rush for a career-high 164 yards and 3 touchdowns.