GAME NOTES: Fresh off a thrilling comeback victory, the No. 17 UCF Knights will host the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in an American Athletic Conference battle at Bright House Networks Stadium.
There wasn't anything thrilling about Rutgers' matchup with Cincinnati last weekend. The Scarlet Knights fell into a deep hole early and never recovered as they were routed, 52-17. The loss was the third in the last four games for the Scarlet Knights, who have fallen well off track for the AAC title with a record of 2-3 in league play and just 5-4 overall. Rutgers still has three games left, including this matchup, to push itself to bowl eligibility but the ceiling isn't any higher for the rest of the campaign.
"If you have a good week of practice, it doesn't guarantee you you're going to have a good game," Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood said following the loss to Cincinnati. "But what it does guarantee is you're going to move in the right direction eventually. Unfortunately that gets lost when you have a score like we did today."
J.J. Worton hauled in a diving, one-handed catch in the back of the end zone with nearly a minute to play and Shawn Moffitt knocked in a 23-yard field goal as time expired to lift UCF to a 39-36 road victory over Temple last weekend. The win was the fifth straight for the Knights, who are 8-1 overall and a perfect 5-0 in league action. Surprisingly enough the Knights lone loss of the season, a 28-25 setback against No. 11 South Carolina, came at home. Even so, with three games to go the Knights control their own destiny in earning the AAC's automatic BCS bid.
"It was a great win," UCF wide receiver Jeff Godfrey said, though he was quick to address where the team's focus lies. "Let's put that past us. Next opponent up is Rutgers and we have to be more excited for that game and not the last game, which was a great win as a team the whole team contributed to that win but on to the next opponent."
These teams were matched up for the first and only time during the 2009 St. Petersburg Bowl. In that contest the Scarlet Knights earned a 45-24 victory behind a three-touchdown performance from Mohamed Sanu.
Sanu is no longer making plays for the Scarlet Knights, who could certainly use some more weapons on offense. Rutgers is managing just under 30 points per game this season, while ranking in the bottom half of the AAC in total offense (396.8 ypg).
Starting quarterback Gary Nova really struggled in the loss to Cincinnati as he completed just 18-of-38 pass attempts for a 170 yards and just one touchdown to two interceptions. It was the second time in the last three games Nova has had less than 200 yards passing and a completion rate below 50 percent. Nova is connecting on 57.2 percent of his pass attempts this season and has totaled 2,052 yards and 18 touchdowns. However, he has been too mistake prone, with 13 interceptions in nine games.
Nova's uneven play has come despite a solid receiving corps making plays for Rutgers. Leonte Carroo (27 receptions, 469 yards, nine yards) has really blossomed into a big-play threat for the offense but he has not been consistent. In three of last four games Carroo has had fewer than 20 yards. Brandon Coleman (28 receptions, 403 yards, three TDs) is another skilled receiver, who had his best game since the opener against Cincinnati with six receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Tyler Kroft (25 receptions, 356 yards, three TDs) is another reliable target that hasn't always gotten a ton of work.
After missing four-straight weeks due to injury, leading rusher Paul James (651 yards, six TDs) came back strong for Rutgers against Cincinnati as he tallied 78 yards on 19 carries. James has rushed for at least 80 yards in every game he has played this season, including three straight 100-yard efforts to start the year. Backup Justin Goodwin (457 yards, four TDs) performed admirably in James' place.
Rutgers' signature defense has not been so impressive this season. The Scarlet Knights are eighth in the AAC in yards allowed (433 ypg) and scoring defense (31.4 ppg). The unit was especially weak in the loss to Cincinnati when it allowed 619 yards of total offense and nearly nine yards per play. Steve Longa (83 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks) and other major contributors need to tighten things up to remain competitive.
In its thrilling win over Temple, UCF showed just how explosive it can be offensively, racking up 657 yards of total offense. After the performance the Knights are still just fourth in the league in total offense (455.3 ypg), but that has been more than enough production.
Worton (31 receptions, 500 yards, seven TDs) became the third member of the team to reach the 500-yard plateau for the year with his efforts against Temple. Worton didn't just wait until the end of the game to make plays as he finished with 10 catches for a career-high 179 yards and three scores. Worton has had three 100-yard showings this year. Also over the 500-yard mark with three 100-yard efforts is Rannell Hall (40 receptions, 639 yards, three TDs), who may not have scored against Temple, but still finished with nine receptions for 159 yards. Breshad Perriman (27 receptions, 567 yards, TD) did not play against Temple and is doubtful again this week with a concussion.
Getting the ball to Worton and Hall is Blake Bortles, who is turning in a strong year under center. Bortles has completed 68.1 percent of his passes and is nearing 2,500 yards and the 20-touchdown mark for the campaign. Even more impressive for the Knights is how well Bortles has controlled the ball, with just five interceptions in nine games. Bortles had a career-high four touchdown passes and 403 yards on 27-of-38 passing against the Owls.
Storm Johnson is the leading rusher for the Knights with 841 yards and nine touchdowns on 156 carries. Johnson rushed for 122 yards against Temple but his efforts were largely overshadowed by the passing game. Johnson has rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back games though and four contests overall this year. William Stanback (341 yards, five TDs) also gets a good deal of work.
UCF hasn't been a dominant defensive team this year. The Knights rank fifth in the conference in yards allowed (369.8 ypg) and are tied for third in scoring defense (20.6 ppg). UCF has forced the third-most turnovers in the league (21) and has the second best opponent red zone conversion rate (18-of-26). Terrance Plummer (73 tackles, 7.0 TFK, 2.0 sacks, two INTs) has been a multi-faceted contributor.
The Knights showed some weakness last weekend against the Owls, but rallied to showcase their resolve. Now that they are back on their home turf, expect Bortles and company to send Rutgers home with another loss.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UCF 31, Rutgers 20