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UCF at Missouri: Knights have depth at the speed positions

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UCF has plenty to prove at quarterback and has good, but not great, line play. But if you're hoping to beat the Knights with speed on the outside, it might backfire.

Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday signals a shift from last game to next game. To start our look at UCF, let's look at the Knights' depth chart (pdf).

Offense

QB
Justin Holman (6'4, 213, So.) (9-for-14, 204, 1 TD, 0 INT, 1 sack, 12.9 yards/attempt; 4 carries, 6 yards, 2 TD)
Nick Patti (5'11, 201, So.)
Pete DiNovo (6'2, 205, RSFr.) (3-for-8, 18 yards, 1 sack, 1.3 yards/attempt); 2 carries, 1 yard)

"[Holman] played really well in the second half," Gary Pinkel said on Monday. "He threw for a couple hundred yards and he got three plays for almost 150 yards. Big plays downfield. Athletic, has good release, very impressed with him..."

Holman isn't a complete stranger to Missouri, either. The Tigers recruited him in the 2013 class. Although his Rivals profile shows an offer from the Tigers, Missouri never officially offered the then three-star recruit and signed two other quarterbacks -- the now-transferred Trent Hosick, and Eddie Printz, also from Georgia.

That slight familiarity with Holman won't provide much of an advantage as Missouri preps for him on Saturday, however.

"We were just aware of him," Pinkel said. "We evaluated him, you know. We evaluate hundreds and hundreds of quarterbacks, but know he's a very good athlete. Very impressed. So I don't -- you know we see him in high school a little bit, but we saw him play a half of football here, so we certainly look at what we see now, compared to when he was in high school. We know he's a very talented player."

-- PowerMizzou

UCF has improved, according to F/+ rankings, in four of the last five seasons. The growth of George O'Leary's program has been steady and organic, and it certainly picked up pace over the last couple of years because of the emergence of Blake Bortles. Bortles captained an outstanding offense in 2013 and found himself drafted awfully high in April's NFL Draft. That he's gone suggests that improving for a fifth time in six years will be awfully difficult, if not impossible. But in the second half of UCF's game against Penn State in Ireland two weeks ago, UCF may have found a pretty impressive successor.

Starter Pete DiNovo struggled mightily against a stellar Nittany Lion defense, and after starting the second half with a three-and-out, he was replaced by Justin Holman. Holman found Breshad Perriman for 50 yards to set up a short touchdown run, and after a long Penn State touchdown increased UCF's deficit to 20-10, Holman hit J.J. Worton for 46 yards to set up a 10-yard touchdown pass to Josh Reese. He lost a fumble on the next possession, but with the game in the balance, he found Perriman for 22 yards and Reese for 37 to set up another touchdown run and briefly give UCF the lead, 24-23, with 1:13 remaining.

Penn State won the game with a field goal at the buzzer, but that was hardly Holman's fault. After UCF scored three points in five drives with DiNovo, the Knights scored 21 points in five drives with Holman. Part of this may have involved the element of surprise in switching quarterbacks -- after all, if Holman were dramatically better than DiNovo, he would have been starting in the first place; plus, Mizzou saw this effect when it got briefly lit up by South Dakota State's backup quarterback in the season opener. Still, Holman has a nice, dual-threat skill set, and he certainly passed his first test. We'll see what weaknesses Mizzou can find, both in film study and on the field.

RB
Dontravious Wilson (5'10, 212, So.) (21 carries, 34 yards; 2 targets, 2 catches, 11 yards)
William Stanback (6'1, 225, So.) (2013: 105 carries, 443 yards, 6 TD; 19 targets, 15 catches, 186 yards)
Cedric Thompson (6'0, 224, Jr.)

HB
Joseph Puopolo (5'10, 242, Jr.)
Mario Mathis (6'1, 232, RSFr.)

Running back Will Stanback (foot) and receiver Rannell Hall (elbow), their leading rusher and receiver among returning players, both missed the Penn State game. Both are healthy and practicing this week and expected to play at Mizzou.

-- Post-Dispatch

Will Stanback was inconsistent as a freshman (who isn't?), but he showed a nice combination of size and speed at times. With Stanback and Wilson, UCF has quite a bit of potential and power. Hopefully Missouri gets enough of a push up front to emphasize the inconsistency.

WR
Breshad Perriman (6'3, 214, Jr.) (8 targets, 3 catches, 81 yards, 10.1 per target)
J.J. Worton (6'2, 212, Sr.) (6 targets, 5 catches, 83 yards, 13.8 per target)
Taylor Oldham (6'1, 200, So.)

WR
Rannell Hall (6'1, 200, Sr.) (2013: 78 targets, 57 catches, 886 yards, 11.4 per target)
Josh Reese (6'0, 180, Sr.) (5 targets, 2 catches, 47 yards, 9.4 per target, 1 TD)
Jordan Akins (6'3, 237, Fr.)

TE
Justin Tukes (6'5, 250, Sr.) (1 target, 0 catches)
Kevin Miller (6'4, 255, Jr.)

If you're looking for reasons to be concerned about Saturday's game, the receiving corps should receive quite a bit of your focus. They roll four deep with solid options and will very much test Mizzou's slot defenders (when they use more than two receivers, anyway). Perriman and Worton are both pretty big, and Hall was last year's leading receiver. Holman has a wealth of options at his disposal, and it's up to Missouri's front to create as many second- and third-ad-longs as possible, then disrupt his timing on such downs.

LT
Torrian Wilson (6'3, 305, Sr.) (30 career starts)
Tank Milner (6'3, 285, Sr.)

LG
Tarik Cook (6'2, 291, Jr.) (3 career starts)
Tate Hernly (6'3, 291, RSFr.)

C
Joey Grant (6'2, 285, So.) (15 career starts)
Jason Rae (5'11, 283, So.)

RG
Colby Watson (6'5, 318, So.) (1 career start)
Chester Brown (6'5, 317, So.)

RT
Michael Campbell (6'6, 285, So.) (1 career start)
Aaron Evans (6'5, 290, RSFr.)

Like Toledo, UCF had a very good offensive line last year, with some of the best run-blocking numbers in the country. Unlike Toledo, a) they didn't necessarily have good pass-blocking numbers (though that could have been because Bortles was looking vertically quite a bit), and b) they don't return quite as much experience. Torrian Wilson is both experienced and good, and Joey Grant is in his second year as starting center. But the other three starters had combined for two starts heading into the season, and they struggled against Penn State.

Granted, Penn State's defensive line is likely pretty good ... but so is Missouri's. For all the skill position talent UCF has, Mizzou could wreck the Knights' plans if the defensive line plays well.

Defense

DE
Luke Adams (6'4, 260, So.) (0.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL)
Deion Green (6'1, 240, Jr.) (2013: 2.0 sacks)

DT
Demetris Anderson (6'2, 299, Jr.) (1.0 tackles, 3 QB hurries; 2013: 7.0 TFL)
Jamiyus Pittman (6'0, 300, Fr.)
Rob Sauvao (6'2, 283, Sr.)

DT
Jaryl Mamea (6'1, 283, Sr.) (3.0 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack; 2013: 4.0 TFL)
Lance McDowdell (6'4, 310, Jr.)

DE
Thomas Niles (6'2, 270, Jr.) (2.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack; 2013: 8.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks)
Miles Pace (6'1, 256, Jr.)

[F]or Central Florida to pull out the win in Columbia, what do they have to do on Saturday, besides the obvious, of course? Which matchups can they exploit, and which matchups will they try to avoid?

This game will be on in the trenches. The offensive line needs to be more consistent doing a better job protecting the quarterback and opening up holes for the run game. The defensive line has to get a pass rush going against Missouri's athletic quarterback and if they can't apply pressure to the quarterback and overpower the offensive line, then UCF will struggle.

-- PowerMizzou

UCF's defensive line gave Mizzou's offensive line fits two years ago (who didn't?), and there's quite a bit of experience in the front seven as a whole. The UCF line is neither particularly big or small, and three of four starters made quite a few plays last year. The matchup between Thomas Niles (who had two sacks against MU two years ago) and either of Mizzou's tackles -- Mitch Morse or Connor McGovern -- could be particularly interesting to watch. And of course, after struggling to push Toledo's tackles around too much, I'm curious how Mizzou's interior line handles Demetris Anderson, Jaryl Mamea, etc., in the middle.

OLB
Troy Gray (6'1, 210, Sr.) (2.0 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 FF; 4.0 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PBU)
Justin McDonald (6'2, 211, So.) (2013: 4.0 TFL)
Jordan Franks (6'3, 225, Fr.) (1.0 tackles)

MLB
Terrance Plummer (6'1, 236, Sr.) (6.0 tackles, 1.5 TFL; 2013: 8.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 INT, 6 PBU)
Domenic Spencer (5'10, 229, Jr.)

OLB
Errol Clarke (6'1, 240, Jr.) (4.5 tackles)
Chequan Burkett (6'2, 218, RSFr.)

Middle linebacker Terrance Plummer put on an impressive showing at the Fiesta Bowl, and he was named the game's defensive MVP after a 14-tackle performance.

That capped a junior season in which Plummer had 110 tackles, including 8 1/2 tackles for a loss, both team highs. He also intercepted two passes and forced two fumbles. He is in his third season as a starter.

-- The Trib

Plummer is the heart and soul of the defense, and Troy Gray had a hell of a game against the Tigers in Orlando in 2012, logging 1.5 sacks and a break-up. UCF seems to have both solid pursuit and pass coverage skill in this experienced receiving corps.

CB
Jacoby Glenn (6'0, 186, So.) (10.0 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU; 2013: 3 TFL, 2 INT, 15 PBU)
Shaquill Griffin (6'1, 192, So.) (1.0 tackles)

SS
Clayton Geathers (6'2, 208, Sr.) (12.5 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 FR; 2013: 4.5 TFL, 2 INT, 10 PBU)
Jared Henry (6'0, 208, So.)
Shaquem Griffin (6'1, 197, RSFr.)

FS
Brandon Alexander (6'2, 195, Sr.) (9.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL; 2013: 3 TFL, 3 INT, 7 PBU)
Drico Johnson (6'1, 202, So.) (1.0 tackles)

CB
Jordan Ozerities (5'10, 186, Sr.) (4.5 tackles, 1 INT; 2013: 4.5 TFL, 1 INT, 6 PBU)
D.J. Killings (6'1, 184, So.) (2013: 3 PBU)
Kyle Gibson (5'11, 180, Fr.)

Even if the run defense improves, you should probably still take your chances on the ground. The secondary was dominant last year despite a sketchy pass rush, and everybody's back this fall, from safeties Clayton Geathers and Brandon Alexander (combined: 7.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions, 17 break-ups), to corners Jordan Ozerities and Jacoby Glenn (combined: 7.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, 21 break-ups). Plus, three very highly touted freshmen join the mix as well, including four-star signee Kyle Gibson.

The linebacking corps was active in pass defense, too. It's hard to say with confidence that the pass rush will improve much, but this will be a top-40 pass defense despite it. Any sort of pressure, and this becomes an elite unit.

-- The big 2014 UCF football preview

The major differences between Toledo and UCF: UCF's run game isn't nearly as explosive, but the Knights' receivers are probably better, and their defensive backs are definitely better. The secondary basically returns intact from last season, and if it was good enough to slow down Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, it is probably good enough to beat Mizzou's receiving corps plenty of times. How frequently Mizzou can win its own battles here will determine whether this game has a super-anxious result, or whether Mizzou can win semi-comfortably.

Special Teams

K
Shawn Moffitt (5'11, 180, Sr.) (2013: 49-49 PAT, 20-21 FG <40, 1-2 FG >40)

P
Caleb Houston (6'1, 200, So.) (4 punts, 46.2 average, 2 fair caught)

KR
Jordan Akins (6'3, 237, Fr.) (5 returns, 28.4 average)
Rannell Hall (6'1, 200, Sr.) (2013: 29 returns, 23.8 average)

PR
J.J. Worton (6'2, 212, Sr.) (2013: 13 returns, 12.1 average)
Josh Reese (6'0, 180, Sr.)

Despite sketchy punting and punt returns, UCF had a top-25 special teams unit last year. That big freshman Jordan Akins beat out Rannell Hall for kick return duties is a sign that he's awfully dangerous, and the return of Shawn Moffitt makes this a stellar unit again, especially if Caleb Houston is going to start averaging 45+ yards per punt with regularity.

***

We'll dig into the stats tomorrow.