Time to welcome the Knights back to The Kingdom
It’s officially UCF Homecoming week 2023. Spirit Splash, concerts, ducks, DJ Shaq, and yes, even football games, are upon us. We all have fond memories of our time at UCF, especially during Homecoming. It’s that time of year when the holidays are right around the corner, the fall semester is in full swing, and cooler weather is starting to creep in and take the humidity out of the air. It’s one of my favorite times of the year.
This week, the Knights face the Mountaineers of West Virginia football in a noon showdown in the Bounce House. This will be just the FOURTH home game of the 2023 season, if you can believe that. Considering we’re already nearing the end of October, I had to double check my notes to make sure.
West Virginia isn’t a familiar face for the Knights, but I suspect they will be over the coming seasons. As a former BigEast member (yeah, remember that conference?) UCF and WVU were almost conference mates once before. As one of the more “eastern” located schools in the Big12, along with UCF, we will likely see a lot of the Mountaineers in the future.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Last week, UCF faced the fighting Dillon Gabriels of Norman. Many assumed the Knights would get downright bullied in their first and only in-conference game against the Sooners (yours truly, included), BUT despite the critics guesses (and an outbreak of the flu or some other bug) UCF fought hard and took the game all the way down to the final minutes with a chance to force overtime. A bid that fell short, in a hard-fought game.
Even though the team left Norman on the wrong side of the win-loss column, I believe the Oklahoma game was a turning point in the season. The Knights showed the heart and determination that fans have been asking for all season, now. They played hard and, more importantly, they played to win, and nearly did. We saw some familiar UCF swagger out of the team, as Javon Baker blew a kiss to a very frustrated Oklahoma sideline, as the Knights scored on a long touchdown play thrown by JRP. Yeah, I know that it caused a penalty scare, and I’d be upset if he had gotten flagged for it and lost the touchdown, but you couldn’t help but chuckle when it happened. I would like to see more “fun” like that in the future, albeit without the risk of penalties. It’s something that our program has been missing these last few seasons, in my opinion. I’m not a team coach, so I’m allowed to say that! Continue to make waves, Javon. If you listened to Adam and Twitter/X-Banned-UCFMike on the Sons of UCF podcast this week, you heard them say that, “We (UCF) had this game!” Most fans agree that UCF could have won the game, had some questionable calls by the refs not occurred at key junctions in the game. Corey Thornton had an impressive endzone interception called back for defensive pass interference near the end of the first quarter. It was arguably one of the worst calls I’ve seen during a UCF game in my experience. I won’t get on my soapbox about that, right now, but there’s a discussion to be had there for later.
So, what to expect from West Virginia? Originally picked near the bottom of the preseason conference rankings, West Virginia is surprising and has thus far managed to claw their way into the middle of the pack of the conference, mid-way through the season. On paper, I think we match up well with WVU. They’ve struggled against stopping the run, on defense. If you’ve watched any UCF football this year, you know that running the ball is what the Knights like to do. I expect RJ Harvey to hit 100 yards on the ground. We may even see Johnny Richardson get some big play action with his speed, too. If JRP, who was still not completely “himself” last Saturday, is close to 100% and feels comfortable running, watch out!
West Virginia’s quarterback is completing less than 53% of his passing attempts on the season. He likes the deep ball, so the DBs will need to be ready. If we can limit the shots they take down-field, we should be a in good position to slow their offense down.
The UCF defense played arguably their best game of the season, a week after taking a well-timed bye to rest and recover. I was particularly impressed with the open field tackling against a good Oklahoma offense. Tackling has been something that UCF has struggled with, this season (and every season since the beginning of recorded time, if we’re being honest). If that same defense shows up again for Homecoming Saturday, we should be in good hands. I’m not ready to say that we will see a pick-6 INT by the UCF defense against West Virginia, but I’m not saying we won’t see it, either.
Regardless of what happened last week, THIS WEEK’S game is an absolute must-win game for the Knights (and the coaching staff.) Gus and crew have been under a lot of scrutiny this season, especially after raising fan expectations in the preseason by saying they could potentially compete for a conference championship in 2023. The Baylor loss is still looming large over both the team and the fan base, and it will continue to do so until the team secures a conference win to cleanse its palate. Gus said in his weekly presser, on Monday, that he’s never lost four games in a row before now. Losing five games would be unprecedented.
The good news is that we’re back home and should be feeling more confident than ever after going toe-to-toe with Oklahoma. There are no such things as “moral victories,” I know, I know. But that doesn’t mean UCF can’t take momentum from their performance last week and keep it rolling (charging on?). I expect the stadium to be loud on Saturday to give UCF an extra edge. Plus, it’s Homecoming! UCF secured its first ever top-25 win during Homecoming week back in 2009 (over #15 Houston). I fully expect UCF to secure its first ever Big12 conference win this Homecoming.
I told you last week that it is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, when getting acclimated to the Big12. That still holds true. But as we’ve seen in the past, the Knights know how to rise up, and I think we saw that last week.
Give me UCF 38 WVU 27. The Knights bounce back with a healthy JRP and better defense on a beautiful Homecoming Saturday.