East Carolina at Central Florida

Sports Xchange

October 11, 2017 at 1:27 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
SITE: Spectrum Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
TV: CBS Sports Network
SERIES: East Carolina leads 10-5. The Knights won 47-29 in 2016.
RANKINGS: UCF No. 22

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Pirates

–QB Thomas Sirk is a dual threat who leads the Pirates in rushing with 145 yards while also passing for 1,382. The transfer from Duke has thrown has many interceptions as he has touchdown passes — seven each — but has passed for an average of over 276 yards a game.

–WR Davon Grayson with 107 career receptions is one of three ECU receivers with triple digits in career receptions (Jimmy Williams 105, Quay Johnson 104). A graduate student, Grayson has a team-high 31 receptions for a team-best 535 yards and five touchdowns this season.

–DE Kiant Anderson leads the Pirates in tackles for loss (5.0) and sacks (3.5) among his 27 tackles. He also has forced a fumble and broken up six passes.

Knights

–QB McKenzie Milton ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency, No. 2 in yards per completion (16.88) and No. 19 in passing yards per game (291.2). He has only two interceptions in 101 attempts against 13 touchdown passes and also has rushed for 48 yards a game.

–WR Tre’Quan Smith started off last week with touchdown receptions of 79 and 41 yards on his first two catches and ended up with a third touchdown reception, giving him seven TD catches for the season. He finished with five catches for 165 yards, giving him season totals of 15 and 337, respectively. Oh, yeah. He also rushed for a touchdown.

–LB Shaquem Griffin, last year’s AAC Defensive Player of the Year after his move from safety, has 20 tackles with a team-best 4.0 for losses. That includes a sack. He also has broken up four passes and forced a fumble.

–LB Pat Jasinski has been the surprise contributor on defense. He leads the team in total tackles (27) after being the Knights’ top stopper in each of the last three games. He has 10 starts among his 29 career appearances.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Arguably the surprise of the college football season is Central Florida’s No. 22 ranking.

Coach Scott Frost’s Knights (4-0, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) lead the nation in scoring at 47.5 points per game and have won their first four games for the first time since rising to the FBS level 21 years ago.

They will be expected to keep things rolling Saturday when struggling East Carolina (1-5, 1-2 AAC) comes to Orlando for an American Athletic Conference tilt. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. ET at Spectrum Field with the CBS Sports Network doing the television honors.

Frost has emerged as a hot coaching prospect and is considered to be a top-tier candidate for any jobs that open at Power-5 conference programs. But, for now, he’s more concerned with having his team playing at an elite level in only his second season at UCF.

“The great thing is I think the guys understand it now,” Frost said. “We don’t even have to remind them. They see how good practice leads to good execution and good play on Saturdays. That’s great as a head coach to watch the process work. … Now, they believe.”

A confident UCF team spells trouble for the Pirates, who arrive bruised and battered after a 34-10 loss to Temple last week. East Carolina quarterback Thomas Sirk was under intense pressure and sacked four times by a suspect Owls’ defense. The Pirates got nothing going on the ground, either, and dropped their second straight game in blowout fashion.

Since beating UConn 41-38 on Sept. 24, ECU has lost to South Florida and Temple by a combined score of 95-41.

To make things even more difficult, the offensive line could be without three regular contributors against a talented UCF defensive front. Center John Spellacy and guards D’Ante Smith and Cortez Herrin are each questionable.

“You’ve got guys that are halfway injured and guys that are not halfway injured,” coach Scottie Montgomery said. “It’s an ‘OR’ on a lot of them (on the depth chart), because you don’t know if they are going to be able to practice on Tuesday, or will they be able to practice on Wednesday. … I’m not going to name a starter for a guy that we don’t even know if he is going to go Tuesday or Wednesday.”

The Pirates lost their last four games of last season, Montgomery’s first at ECU, and have continued a downward trend this year.

“Right now, we have got a lot of guys that are very confident and others that are just confident. We’ve got guys that need to build their confidence,” Montgomery said. “I wouldn’t categorize the whole team as being confident or non-confident.

“I just think that there are different people with different levels of confidence and sometimes you can look at the stat sheet and see it.”

UCF enters the game completely confident. The Knights scored on all eight of their possessions in last week’s weather-shortened 51-23 rout of Cincinnati.

Quarterback McKenzie Milton completed 16 of 19 passes for 374 yards with five touchdowns. Big-play receiver Tre’Quan Smith caught three touchdowns from Milton and also rushed for a score in a dominating offensive performance.

The Knights racked up 515 yards in just three quarters of play before officials elected to stop the game with inclement weather in the area.

“Our standard is to be as good as we were this past game,” UCF offensive lineman Jordan Johnson said this week. “We’re very confident going into this next game, but we’re just trying to be as good as we were last game and try to exceed the standard and keep pushing our levels every week.”

Milton ranks second nationally, behind Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, in passing efficiency with a rating of 203.7. Milton has completed 69 of 101 passes for 1,165 yards, with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions.

UCF won at East Carolina 47-29 last season, despite being outgained 521-373 by the Pirates.

“Offensively, they’re still dangerous,” Frost said. “They have as good a passing attack as anybody in our league. Our defense is going to have to be ready for that. We’re going to have to get after the passer and defend well on the back end.”