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Q&A Preview: UCF Knights

A sneak behind enemy lines with Chas Short of Underdog Dynasty.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Down the Drive: How big a statement did UCF make with its win over Memphis last week?

Chas Short (Underdog Dynasty): Big. No one expected a victory that thorough. Memphis plays poor defensive, (the Tigers have been plagued with injuries to defensive players) so it’s not a surprise UCF scored pretty readily. The great surprise was how the defense great the defense played – especially in the red zone – and got turnovers. Keep in mind also that this win could easily have been more lopsided. Memphis kept the starters in and Riley Ferguson threw a touchdown on the last play of the game.

Memphis is a good team with a win over UCLA on its resume this year. They may yet end up winning their division. It’s also a win that shows the Knights’ stomping of Maryland wasn’t an aberration – UCF is an excellent team.

DTD: What were your expectations for this team coming into the season and how have you adjusted them after such a strong start?

CS: Here’s what I expected, from my season preview:

If the Knights don’t reach seven wins, it would be a disappointment. In terms of conference standing, finishing second in the east is an attainable goal for the Knights. And the potential ceiling on this team is high – if things click in just a few key areas, UCF could wind up being a great team.

The things that needed to click in place – the maturation of QB McKenzie Milton, the play of the offensive line, and the new starters in the entire secondary – did. So I’ve become much more bullish on my Knights.

A special word for the cornerbacks, which was the greatest unknown. Presumptive starter Nevelle Clarke was suspended for six games for a failed drug test. Thirteen days before the season started, UCF added a junior college transfer in Mike Hughes. The first depth chart had Chris Johnson (a former WR who had two tackles last year as DB) and redshirt freshman Brandon Moore as the corners. Early in the first game of the season, Johnson was burned for a 75 yard touchdown pass. Hughes came in and has established himself as an absolute star for the Knights’ defense since.

Winning the conference is an attainable goal for UCF. And I’ve become convinced our Black Friday game against USF will decide who wins the division.

DTD: Is Shaquem Griffin still as good as he was last year?

CS: He is. If his statistics aren’t quite what one might expect (which sounds funny to say about someone who’s still second on the team in tackles and tied for most tackles for loss), it’s not due to Griffin regressing in anyway. He’s been used more in coverage this year.

DTD: UCF is currently No. 1 in the American Athletic Conference in total offense (539.3 YPG). What has been the main reason for the offensive success and who does UC need to focus on to stop it?

CS: In a tight contest between McKenzie Milton improving and offensive line play, I’ll go with the offensive line play. The line is especially proficient in pass protection. Milton still hasn’t been sacked yet this year (granted, that’s through three games). He’s had a lot of time to throw. And they’ve opened up holes for the running backs to take advantage of.

Here’s an example (which also says a lot about the speed of RB Adrian Killins Jr.):

That’s a key difference between this year’s offense and last year’s. The offensive line faded away as the season progressed. Milton was often put in a bad spot and the running backs were limited as well. Not so, now.

DTD: What’s your prediction for how this game plays out?

CS: I expect UCF to handle the Bearcats fairly easily and capitalize on Hayden Moore’s mistakes and inconsistencies. The Knights’ defense is leading the nation with +2.33 turnovers per game and will have opportunities against UC.

I also imagine the trends on third down will continue. UCF is fourth in the country in third down conversion defense (opponents have converted 8-of-37 third down opportunities against the Knights). This bodes poorly for a UC team that’s 99th in the country on converting third downs.

DTD: BONUS QUESTION: What is your favorite cut of “Blade Runner”? Or if you don’t feel like you can answer that, what is your favorite Ridley Scott movie?

CS: I have a “Blade Runner” problem. Which is to say, I’ve never seen it. This is the sort of thing people look at you incredulously for.

I guess it’s not surprising that I’ll have my lack of appreciation for a total classic exposed on the internet now. My wife and I once had dinner with Dana Snyder and a group of animators and comic book writers. Blade Runner came up. We hadn’t seen it. Dead, stunned silence.

This is more public. To make it worse, I just had to look up Ridley Scott on IMDB to see if I’d seen a movie that he directed other than Aliens. Make a concession like this, and I’m pretty sure they don’t allow you on the internet anymore.

(My favorite Ridley Scott movie is Black Hawk Down. Powerful stuff).