Central Florida Knights vs SMU Mustangs

Kenneth Acker and the Mustangs will have to dominate in order to go bowling this season. Photo Courtesy: Joe Lorenzini
Kenneth Acker and the Mustangs will have to dominate UCF to go bowling. Photo Courtesy: Joe Lorenzini

By Zach Walker

Game Info
Saturday – December 7 – 11:00 AM
Gerald Ford Stadium – Dallas

The Mustangs were absolutely pulled apart inside Reliant Stadium by the Houston Cougars, 34-0. The Mustangs struggled to move the ball, especially in the first half, finishing the first half with only five first downs, 146 yards, committed nine penalties for 75 yards, and had three turnovers. The Mustangs finished the game with only 295 total yards and four turnovers, freshman quarterback Neal Burcham never looked comfortable and was sacked five times and threw three interceptions. The Mustangs defense had their back against the wall throughout most of the game, either having to respond quickly to a turnover or a turnover on downs. But the defense had its moments, picking off a couple of John O’Korn passes; Kenneth Acker played a pass while in zone coverage and managed to return it 15 yards. Randall Joyner made a great diving interception while manned up against Greg Ward Jr. O’Korn continued to be slightly off, completing a little fewer than 60 percent of his passes. But the Mustangs were never in this game, and couldn’t manage a single scoring drive, but Houston is a team that is crazy-focused on taking the ball away from opposing teams, and for a freshman getting his first start, it was sort-of expected for him to struggle.

The Central Florida Knights are going to roll into Gerald J. Ford Stadium ranked 15th in the national standings, and have already clinched an automatic BCS bowl berth with Cincinnati losing to Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville Cardinals on Thursday night. The Knights are 10-1 on the season, and only lost by three points to South Carolina, besides that, they are 7-0 in AAC conference play. But on the road, the Knights have played games much closer to the chest, beating Temple, Penn State, and then top-dog of the conference Louisville, all by only three points each. But this is probably the most complete offense that SMU will have faced all year. Storm Johnson, excellent name for a running back, is a big play away from a 1000 yard season, and has a 5.4 yards-per-carry average and 11 touchdowns. The Knights second back, William Stanback, has considerably fewer yards on the season, but has a healthy yards average at 4.6 a touch and six touchdowns. And like SMU, the Knights have a very dependable wide receiving group, with four players with over 30 catches. All of the receivers have good size to pose problems for SMU’s secondary, and their top three options all have a touchdown of 60+ yards, so speed isn’t lacking for them either, and if you didn’t see the game-winning catch made by J.J. Worton in the Temple game, look it up, because it’s probably the catch of the year in football, NCAA or NFL. The Knights quarterback, Blake Bortles, has pretty much the same numbers as SMU’s Garrett Gilbert, only with a slightly higher completion percentage (68/66.5) and one more touchdown pass, but with way less throws made this season (316/504). But getting pressure around him has come as a premium, so the Mustangs will have to take advantage, when the heat gets turned up on Bortles.

The Mustangs need to hope that Garrett Gilbert can play in this season finale, because it would be an awesome moment, to have your star player fight through injury to come back and upset a top 15 team to make his team bowl eligible. That would be a show. But in case he can’t go, Neal Burcham is going to have to play lights out football in front of his home crowd. He is going to have to stay poised and take chances when he sees them, like looking for the deep threat of Keenan Holman a few more times during the course of the game. Because to upset a team, you can’t just go with what’s comfortable, you have to take chances. Kenneth Acker can only cover so much; Chris Parks needs to have a big game to help dictate where the ball goes during the game. Basically, this is step up time for the entire team, all the way down to the special teams, because UCF isn’t a team that backed into their number 15 ranking, they earned it, and for SMU to become bowl eligible, SMU is going to have to take the win straight from the lion’s mouth.

Matchup of the Game
UCF RB Storm Johnson vs SMU LB Randall Joyner
: Storm is a dual danger from the back-field, and has 26 catches on the season for three scores and 222 yards, the key to the game for SMU has to be containing what Storm Johnson can get on the ground and limit his opportunities to take one deep on passes.

Key to the Game: The Health of Garrett Gilbert. If he can play, protection is the number one priority, because UCF should consider blitzing Gilbert to test how healthy he is.

Prediction: None of my predictions this season have been close, last week was horrible by me, but I really want to see SMU continue their bowl streak, but this isn’t an easy game, even if Gilbert was fully healthy. UCF 28 – SMU 35, as if I’d pick against them. Come on home crowd, the Mustangs are going to need you.