After two wins and a bye week, Maryland football is back in action on Saturday. The Terps will host UCF for the second straight year; last season, Maryland took down the Knights 30-24 in double-overtime.
There are plenty of question marks entering this matchup. Maryland looked strong in its first two games, but it’s unclear if that performance level will continue going forward. Meanwhile, UCF hasn’t played since Aug. 31, when the Knights steamrolled FIU by 44 points. Their past two matchups were canceled in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, so we know even less about this up-and-coming team than we thought we would.
To answer some of those questions, we brought in Chas Short, who covers UCF for our SB Nation friends at Underdog Dynasty. You can follow Chas (@CFBAsterisk) or the site (@underdogdynasty) on Twitter if you so wish. We’ll have a corresponding Q&A on the site later this week. (Update: here it is.)
Testudo Times: We saw a tough UCF team around this time last year. How have the Knights changed since then?
Underdog Dynasty: They’ve substantially improved. UCF’s offense was mostly dysfunctional last year, and seriously faded away in the latter part of the season. The Knights offensive line play devolved. Quarterback McKenzie Milton was a freshman (his first start came against Maryland) and while he showed promise, he also made mistakes. Perhaps you remember a bunch of them from last year.
The offense was on fire in the Knight’s only game of the season this year, a 61-17 domination of FIU. Milton is making better throws and exercising better judgment. Likewise, the offensive line appears to have improved and gave Milton a lot of time to throw (though I’d have liked to see better run blocking). I think this year these improvements will allow us to see a true Scott Frost offense.
Many of the starters on defense — including the entire secondary — had to be replaced. This was the team’s strength last year. But based on the evidence so far, I’m not convinced there will be a drop off.
An additional personnel change of note — we saw several freshman get serious opportunities. Keep your eyes out for WRs Emmanuel Logan-Greene, Gabriel Davis, and Otis Anderson. On defense, note transfer CB Mike Hughes, who had only been with the team 13 days before the FIU game. He’s been a boost to the secondary, which was a position of concern going into the season (and is still probably the position I’m least confident about on defense).
TT: What did you see from the team in its season-opening win against FIU, and what are the biggest question marks coming out of this two-week layoff?
UD: Though I’ve loved what I’ve seen so far from my Knights, I have to concede the sample size is small. We’ve played a single game, dominating a team which is not good, and in which the starters got to sit very early. McKenzie Milton — whose improved maturity was going to be a question mark going into the season — sat with about eight minutes and change left in the third quarter.
It continues to be a question of just how good the offense is and what the secondary looks like. And undoubtedly there’s a question of rust, especially for starters who have not played many minutes this season. This could be an acute problem against a Terps team that has the ability to step on the gas.
TT: What are you looking to see from quarterback McKenzie Milton in his second season?
UD: Consistency. Accuracy. Decision-making.
We already know he’s got the ability to make a big play, especially outside of the pocket. So let’s see mistake-free football.
TT: Which defensive player(s) do you think will need to step up to stop the explosive Maryland offense?
UD: You guys have more points than offensive plays, right? We’re going to need them all to step up. Especially to contain that running attack.
But I feel as good as I can about UCF’s front seven, it’s the strength of the defense. So despite my concern about Maryland running the ball, let me highlight the CBs Mike Hughes (whom I mention above) and redshirt freshman Brandon Moore. As I’ve said, this continues to be my concern on defense.
TT: What would a win mean for UCF after everything that's kept them off the field?
UD: It would be glorious. We haven’t gotten to watch our team since August. We had the tease of the Memphis game being moved a day earlier, then cancelled (fortunately, it’s now been rescheduled for September 30). And then Georgia Tech was cancelled, scratching a marquee (and I believe winnable) home game against a P5 opponent.
Consider also that many of us have been dealing with the chaos (or damage) of Hurricane Irma. A distraction would be welcome.
UCF also hasn’t beaten a P5 opponent since stomping Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1, 2014. Independent of the time off, it would be a big deal.
TT: Complete this sentence: ________ will win because ________.
UD: To my chagrin, Maryland will win. I expect them to be more consistent and error free in the likely shoot-out.