Navy at Central Florida

The Sports Xchange

November 07, 2018 at 6:21 pm.

KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SITE: Spectrum Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
SERIES: UCF leads 1-0. UCF won the last meeting 31-21 in 2017.


–QB Zach Abey got his first start at quarterback last week after starting six games at wide receiver. He was 3-of-4 passing for 47 yards and rushed 28 times for a net 37 yards in the loss to Cincinnati, but likely will get the start against this week.

–SB Malcolm Perry, who started at quarterback before moving to slot back to start the next four, leads the Middies in rushing with 882 yards on 147 carries, a 6.0 average. He leads the team in rushing touchdowns with seven and has six receptions for 76 yards with a long of 32 yards.

–LB Taylor Heflin leads Navy in tackles with 62 and is tied for the team lead in sacks with three. He also has been credited with breaking up a pass and recovering fumble.


–QB McKenzie Milton returned to the starting lineup after missing a game with an injury and passed for 312 yards to rally the Knights past Temple. He was only 17-of-33 and was intercepted once but also threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another.

–RB Adrian Killins is a speedster in the backfield for the Knights. He is a big-play guy in the passing game with 282 yards on 11 receptions, a 25.6 average, with two touchdowns. He has rushed for 572 yards, averaging 9.7 per carry.

–LB Pat Jasinski has been slowed by injuries after recording a remarkable 104 tackles last season. He has only 41 this season with 3.5 for losses. He also has an interception and forced a fumble.


One aspect of the Central Florida’s 21-game winning that pretty much has been ignored is that the No. 12 Knights have done so while undergoing a coaching change smack dab in the middle.

But that has the respect of coach Ken Niumatalolo, whose Navy team will become the next to try to put an end to that run when it takes on the Knights Saturday in an American Athletic Conference clash.

“It’s impressive that they’ve kind of moved on with a new coaching staff,” Niumatalolo said. “The players have adjusted to the new culture, and they’ve continued to win. So super impressed with them.”

Coach Josh Heupel took over the Knights (8-0, 5-0 AAC) from Scott Frost (now at Nebraska) after spending the previous two years as offensive coordinator at Missouri. He also had stints on staffs at Arizona and Oklahoma, his alma mater.

“It was unique in taking over a program that had that much success in the previous season,” Heupel said. “I was fortunate enough in being able to hire a great staff. We have great coaches, some young coaches, a lot of experience, guys that have been coaching football a long time.”

Among those veterans are former Miami head coach and well-respected defensive coordinator Randy Shannon and Willie Martinez, whose previous stops included time at Cincinnati, Tennessee, Auburn, Oklahoma, and Georgia.

The hardest thing about the transition was “to create buy-in because our program is different than what it was a year ago,” Heupel said. Heupel’s answer was to give the players more of a voice in the program by forming a leadership council and spending more time with them.

“We hadn’t been in any of their living rooms,” Heupel said. “We spent a lot of time with them. Ate breakfast with them, we’re in the weight room, ate lunch with them every single day before spring ball.

“We had more team activities than anywhere I’ve ever been just trying to get to know them and be around them.”

That approach has paid off by getting the Knights to within three wins of joining the list of the top 25 winning streaks in college football.

Their next opponent, Navy, is having just the opposite experience.

The Middies (2-7, 1-4 AAC) have lost their last six outings and are within one defeat of matching their longest losing streak in 17 years. Their most recent performance, a 42-0 loss to Cincinnati, is not encouraging.

“We haven’t been playing great this year,” Niumatalolo said, “but we played really bad Saturday.”

With a former wide receiver, Zach Abey, getting his first start at quarterback, the Middies rushed for only 124 yards for a total of 171 yards in total offense against the once-beaten Bearcats.

“He did OK,” Niumatalolo said of Abey, a senior. “Didn’t turn the ball over, so that’s a good job taking care of the ball. For the most he got us in the right plays and got the ball to the right person for the most part.

“The other part is making sure of things just recognition-wise, that he can see things and see what people are going. That’s probably the next phase that we’d like him to get to. He did some good things, but we still scored zero points. We haven’t been shut out in a long time.”

UCF is coming off a comeback 52-40 win over Temple to remain at the top of the AAC East standings as well as stay in contention for a New Year’s Six bowl spot, all something Heupel considers “outside noise.”

“The only thing we talk about inside of our program is the next opponent,” he said. “We understand the test you have every week in this league.”

His attention is on the defensive problems the uniqueness of Navy’s option running game can create. Despite the off game last week, the Middies have averaged 286.9 yards rushing.

“They force you to be extremely disciplined and have great eyes, trust your keys, and make plays in space,” Heupel said.