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It’s starting earlier in the season for UCF than in the past. It seems since the Knights’ big success in 2017, there’s a buzz around a certain week on the schedule where the team has a subpar opponent. This starts to evoke the Commander of the Rebellion Navy from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Admiral Ackbar – “It’s a trap!.” The fear that the East Carolina Pirates could be a stumbling block for any credible hopes for a high national ranking in 2020 in a trap game begins to grow legs.
Normally, I would dismiss this out of hand. But as we are constantly reminded in 2020, this particular year is not normal. And this time, there’s a bit of clarity to the conspiracy theorists’ concerns. The Knights started their campaign in what is considered “Week 3” nationally by trouncing Georgia Tech, 49-21. While this victory was impressive, it also represents one of the tougher games on the UCF schedule.
Moreover, ECU is a team in a rebuild. Give their head coach Mike Houston some credit, they are a program headed in the right direction. Last year, junior quarterback Horton Ahlers performed well, throwing for 3,387 yards despite the squad going 4-8. Ahlers was also the team’s second-highest rusher with 359 yards. If the Pirates establish some run support on offense, the defense will only need to contain the opponent enough to keep them in range.
But as bright spots go from the outside looking in, that’s where they seem to end for the most part with the Pirates. ECU makes themselves an easy team to look past. Especially with Tulsa looming on the schedule the following week. The allure is there for UCF’s high percentage of returning skill players to peer forward to getting revenge on the Golden Hurricanes who pulled the big upset on the Knights in 2019.
Take all that with key contributors leaving the game early in Greg McCrae and Tre Nixon against the Yellow Jackets last week and now we have a textbook trap game scenario constructed…at least on the surface.
Here’s why that’s not what’s going to happen:
First off, the injuries turned out to be relatively minor. McCrae and his fellow running backs have looked good in practice according to coaches and Nixon is being evaluated day-to-day rather than being labeled as out. Even if both guys miss, there is enough depth to cover the difference.
Otis Anderson has posted solid games as a starter in the past in addition to his skills as a utility player that catches passes as a receiver and returns kicks. Marlon Williams continues to evolve after posting his career-high against the Yellow Jackets. And that’s not even mentioning Bentavious Thompson, Jaylon Robinson, or Jacob Harris.
Something else that should boost the morale of the Knights is that the broadcast went from ESPN+ to ABC. In short, it went from being an internet stream only to national television on a dime. This means that for the first time in the school’s history, UCF has on back-to-back contests with that much media exposure.
Lastly, credit to the man with the “1-0” mantra himself, Knight’s head coach Josh Heupel. The company line for the players and staff more now than ever is that every game is an opportunity to play the sport they love, especially when this time four months ago no one was sure it would be possible. This ethos is probably be expressed best by UCF safety Richie Grant postgame from Saturday:
“To be here right now is a blessing,” he said. “The way we won that just shows you how much we came in, how much we care about each other, and the work we put in to get to this point.”