Take Five Breakdown: Florida-Central Florida Preview

Dec 22, 2021 | 0 comments

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The Florida Gators finish off their 2021 season by taking on the UCF Knights in the Gasparilla Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. After talking to Collin Allen of UCF Knight News, here is a closer look at the Knights.

Mikey Keene, Quarterback, Freshman

  • The Skinny: Keene was not expected to play much as a true freshman with Dillon Gabriel returning, but after Gabriel fractured a collarbone, Keene was forced to step into the starting position. Keene has gradually improved since his first start in week four against Navy with the climax being a five-touchdown performance against Temple in October. Allen said that Keene is a dual-threat and he can make plays with his legs, so it will be interesting to see how the defense handles him after Florida’s State’s Jordan Travis had a big day on the ground against the Gator defense a few weeks ago.

Quadric Bullard, Defensive Back, Sophomore

  • The Skinny: Bullard has burst onto the scene as one of the playmakers of the Knights defense in 2021 and the stats support that notion. Bullard is second on the team with 78 tackles and a team-high three forced fumbles. Bullard will be expected to be near the line of scrimmage and help in run support and pass rush and his stats show that with four tackles for loss and two sacks. There are not too many collegiate defensive backs who are willing to be in the box and stop the run but Bullard is one that will do whatever he can to help his team win. Allen said that Bullard is a ball hawk, who is usually near the action.

Johnny Richardson, Running Back, Sophomore

  • The Skinny: Richardson may only be 5-feet-7-inches but he packs a mean punch to pair with his top-end speed. The Lake Wales native has been a jack of all trades for the Knights in 2021 as he leads the team 693 rushing yards and an outstanding 6.9 yards per carry, which stands as the second-highest mark in school history. Allen said that Richardson will occasionally line up out wide and bust open a big play. Richardson has 22 receptions for 197 yards and 15 kick returns for 301 yards, which adds up to a little over 20 yards per return. The most impressive stat for Richardson is that he has 21 explosive plays to his name in 2021 and I would not be surprised if he breaks a big gain or two against the Gator defense.

Big Kat Bryant, Defensive Line, Grad Transfer (Auburn)

  • The Skinny: Many Gator fans have heard of Bryant before; he was a part of the nasty Auburn defensive line the 2019 team faced that forced Kyle Trask and Dameon Pierce. in to four fumbles. Bryant was a two-year starter at Auburn and put-up nice numbers but was overshadowed by Derrick Brown. No one has cast a shadow on the shine from Bryant’s performance in 2021 with the Knights. Bryant is the clear lead pass-rusher on the team with 14 tackles for loss and six sacks. His game film from this season has earned him a hefty payday from the NFL and he earned first-team All-AAC honors. Look for Bryant to create havoc and force Emory Jones into bad decisions and create turnovers.

Ryan O’Keefe, Wide Receiver, Junior

  • The Skinny: Talk about being a spark plug with speed, O’Keefe has been just that for the Knights offense in 2021. Like Johnny Richardson, O’Keefe is not the biggest guy on the field, but he will hurt you with speed, agility, and elusiveness working out of the slot and out wide. He leads the AAC with 77 receptions and that currently stands as the sixth most receptions in a season in school history with the bowl game still to go. His 727 receiving yards and 60.5 yards per game lead the team and is also a perfect 3-3 with two touchdown passes. The Gators defense will need pay special attention to O’Keefe as he can break open for a big gain at any time.

Five Fast Facts

  • This will be the third matchup between the two programs with the Gators holding a 2-0 advantage with a 58-27 win in 1999 and a 42-0 win in 2006.
  • Florida and UCF recently announced a three-game series with games in Gainesville in 2024 and 2033 and a game in Orlando in 2030.
  • The Knights are 3-18 all-time against SEC teams, their three wins came against Alabama (2000), Auburn (2018), and Georgia (2010).
  •  The Knights moved to the FBS level in 1996 and became the youngest program to win a New Year’s Six/BCS Bowl game after beating Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl. UCF is one of just 16 programs to have appeared in three New Year’s Six/BCS Bowl games between 2013-2020.
  • Since the start of the 2017 season, the Knights are 49-12. Their 49 wins in the past 61 games trail only Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, and Georgia for the most wins during the past 61 games.

Five Game Day Storylines

With the media and fans bickering back and forth about which program is better, is there an actual rivalry amongst the teams to prove who is better?

  • According to Allen, UCF and its fanbase have been wanting to play Florida in football for a long time and are finally getting the chance to prove themselves. “They are motivated, as they look at UF as a rival.”, Allen said. I was on the sidelines for the UF-USF game in September and it did not feel like a rivalry but I feel this game is completely different as I expect both teams will come out motivated and ready to hit the ground running. Both teams have a ton of players from Florida so a lot of these players know each other or played each other in high school.

What position unit is the strength of the offense?

  • Head coach Gus Malzahn has a reputation of having a quick-strike offense that takes advantage of confusion and players getting tired. “The offense can catch defenses off-guard with its fast-paced, high-tempo offense. Primarily beats defenses with the run game.”, Allen said. UCF has a good stable of running backs with Richardson, Mark Antony Richards, and Isaiah Bowser, so I would not be surprised if Malzahn runs the ball with those three early and often before trying to take deep shots with the passing game.

What position unit is the strength of the defense?

  • There is no clear strength according to Allen but, the run defense, while inconsistent, has had good performances because of the defensive line getting into the backfield and forcing pressure. The defense has averaged four sacks per game over the last eight games and 4.5 sacks over the last six games. Bryant and others should be a force to be reckoned with as the Gators' offensive line looks to go back to the way they were playing during the first four games of the season.

With an extended break and more chances to practice after the regular season to prepare for the bowl game, does UCF have any secret freshman who could contribute in the bowl game?

  • According to Allen, there are a couple of freshmen who could make an impact on Thursday night against the Gators. Titus Mokiao-Atimalala is a true freshman wide receiver with only 10 catches to his name in 2021 with most of his work coming on special teams. “Look for Malzahn to incorporate Titus more into the offensive plan Thursday,” Allen said.

Will the passing of former UCF running back Otis Anderson have any mental effect on the team?

  • Anderson was one of the most productive players in UCF football history as his yard-per-carry average throughout his career is second highest in school history and he is eighth all-time in with 27 touchdowns. Many players on the 2021 team spent a lot of time with Anderson as teammates and since he just graduated earlier this year, there are probably many players and coaches who kept in touch with Anderson. His passing was a tough pill to swallow for the team and community so I would not be

Game Prediction

Central Florida 27, Florida 21

Tags: Sport

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