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There is no dispute. This weekend’s game featuring UCF hosting the Cincinnati Bearcats is the most important of the Knights’ season. While their victory against Temple last week improved their standing, nothing provides a path to an American Conference Championship without a victory on Saturday at 3:30 pm in the Bounce House on ESPN.
Bearcat Head Coach Luke Fickell has led his team to a #7 ranking in the AP Poll with relentless execution. Their ability to dominate on both sides of the line of scrimmage is superior to any other UCF opponent on the year. From under center, Desmond Ridder has earned multiple Offensive Player of the Week awards for the AAC with support from running back Gerrid Doaks. They also boast a physical defense that can cover very well in the secondary. It’s no wonder Cincy is highly ranked nationally in so many defensive categories.
However, UCF is a group that has played better each week since their back-to-back losses hoping to hit their apex. Head Coach Josh Heupel remarked: “We certainly have the opportunity to [ascend] this Saturday. We need to be at our best. Nothing extraordinary, but we got to do the ordinary things at a really high level”.
From the reduction of offensive penalties to improvements in defensive performance, UCF has become a more complete squad to bolster their production as the top-scoring offense in the AAC. And that’s without having played the same amount of games as other schools. On top of that, wide receiver Tre Nixon and offensive tackle Sam Jackson return to the lineup to further buttress the Knights’ chances.
Nonetheless, as of Monday, Cincinnati is favored as a road team. A lot of the reason has to be their front seven, led by linebacker Jarrell White and defensive end Myjai Sanders. Sanders leads his crew with five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss in 2020, but White also has two sacks with seven stops in the backfield as well as a pick-six. When pitted against UCF freshman Matt Lee at center and that offensive line who allowed a one-loss Temple front to harass quarterback Dillion Gabriel, one can expect that the Knights’ high-octane offense won’t be necessarily running on all cylinders.
With that being said, if the Black and Gold can produce in the run game, there is hope. That could set up big chunk plays from Gabriel to receivers like Marlon Williams and Jaylon Robinson to give Coach Heupel’s group a chance to go 1-0 just one more time.