Connecticut at Central Florida

Sports Xchange

November 08, 2017 at 3:17 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SITE: Spectrum Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
TV: ESPNU
SERIES: Tied 2-2. The Knights won 24-16 in 2016.
RANKINGS: UCF No. 18

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Huskies

–QB David Pindall will be under the gun as he steps in for the injured veteran Bryant Shirreffs. In four games, he is 24 of 44 passing for 222 yards with one interception and no touchdown passes.

–WR Hergy Mayala has five touchdown receptions, including a career-long 80-yard score. The junior had no touchdown receptions is first two seasons.

–DE Cole Ormsby is leading the Huskies in sacks. He has 6.0 among his 16 tackles and has four quarterback hurries.

–LB Junior Joseph is making his final collegiate season a memorable one. He leads the Huskies in tackles (77) and already has set career highs in tackles for loss (5.5), sacks (3.0) and passes defended (3) and preserved the 20-14 win over Tulsa by breaking up a pass in the end zone as time expired.

Knights

–QB McKenzie Milton ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency (189.1), completion percentage (70.0) and passing yards per attempt (11.1). He has passed for an average of over 301 yards a game and has 20 touchdown passes against only five interceptions.

–WR Tre’Quan Smith has been Milton’s No. 1 target. He has 33 receptions for and average of 19.1 yards per catch with nine touchdowns.

–LB Pat Jasinski has been a solid performer on defense. He leads the team in tackles with 63 with 3.5 for losses (1.0 sack) and has forced and recovered a fumble.

–S Kyle Gibson has three of the team’s 11 interceptions and has been credited with breaking up three other passes. He has 31 tackles with 19 of them solo efforts and has recovered two fumbles.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Second-year UCF coach Scott Frost has fond memories of his team’s win over Connecticut last year.

In wet, nasty conditions, the Knights fell behind 13-0, before the weather cleared up and quarterback McKenzie Milton got hot. Milton rallied UCF with a pair of touchdown passes, and the Knights’ defense shut out Connecticut in the second half of a program-building conference 24-16 win.

“That was a big win for us last year,” Frost said as the 18th-ranked Knights began preparations for Saturday’s American Athletic Conference clash in Spectrum Stadium in Orlando. Kickoff is noon ET with ESPNU handling the telecast. “I was worried about that one the whole time.

“It was cold and rainy. In warmups, it just started down-pouring. I remember thinking we couldn’t complete a pass on air in warmups. We got behind and miraculously the weather cleared, and the sun came out, and we threw the ball pretty well. That was a good day for our program.”

Things are pretty good for Frost and the Knights (8-0, 5-0 AAC), one of five undefeated teams in the nation. The Knights are 8-0 for the first time in program history and lead the nation in scoring, averaging 48.5 points per game.

Last week’s seven-point win over SMU was the first game this season in which they didn’t win by double-digits.

As the highest-ranked team in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, the Knights are in the driver’s seat to represent the Group of Five conferences in a New Year’s Six bowl.

Connecticut is a different story. The Huskies (3-6, 2-4 AAC) have been inconsistent in coach Randy Edsall’s first season back on the sidelines after 11 seasons in his first stint with Connecticut when he oversaw the program’s transition from the FCS to the FBS. He left for Maryland in 2011, before returning to Connecticut this year.

His first season back has been a challenge.

“It’s a process, what we’re doing here with this program,” Edsall said. “All these guys have to understand you just have to keep working. You don’t get bigger, faster and stronger by saying you’re going to get bigger, faster and stronger. … The way you do that is by putting the time and effort in, and it takes a lot of hard work.”

Despite the struggles, the Huskies remain in mathematical contention to get to six wins and bowl eligibility, though they would need to win all three of their remaining games to get there. A home game against Boston College and trip to Cincinnati follow the trek to UCF.

“We still have things we can accomplish,” Edsall said. “Is it going to be easy? No, it’s not going to be easy. But nothing in life is easy if it’s worthwhile.”

Connecticut starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has been ruled out for the game with a concussion. Backup David Pindell will make his second start of the season. Pindell, a junior college transfer, started the season-opener against Holy Cross, but lost his job to Shirreffs and has served as the backup ever since. Pindell completed 19 of 28 passes for 154 yards in the Huskies’ 27-20 win over the Crusaders.

“He gets the ball out of his hands really quickly,” Connecticut offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “And he throws a catchable ball. Sometimes he needs to put more on it, and we need to work on deep balls, and he’s improved.

“But he gets the ball out quick and, obviously, can hurt you with his feet. He’s got some dimensions there that we can work with.”

Pindell will have his hands full against a Knights defense that came up huge in the fourth quarter of last week’s hard-fought win at SMU. UCF got fourth-down stops on SMU’s final two possessions and held on for a 31-24 conference road win.

“You never know which challenge is gonna raise its head,” Frost said. “But our guys have been resilient and have done a good job answering the bell to any challenge that comes their way.”

Milton overcame two first-half interceptions and finished with 412 yards passing with a rushing and passing touchdown. The sophomore has been brilliant this season, completing 70.0 percent of his pass attempts with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has been named a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award, which is awarded to the nation’s top quarterback.

 

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