A closer look at UCF’s dominant 2-0 start

by Andrew Kennedy

UCF has started the 2011 season about as dominant as possible, outscoring their opponents in the first two games 92-3. It wasn’t much of a surprise the way UCF handled Charleston Southern in their home opener but their dominance over ACC-opponent Boston College was something that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Coming into this season after 2010 being such a successful one the expectations were definitely high but after losing some key players on defense it looked like maybe UCF would take a step back on that side of the ball. So far that has not even close to been the case as the defense has obviously been amazing giving up just three points so far this season and the offense has also done its job led by sophomore quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey.

UCF’s offense, while disguised by some spread and pistol formations, is pretty basic and straightforward with what it tries to accomplish: running the ball downfield to set up the play action pass. Here’s a closer look at how UCF has been effective on offense this year.

Jeff Godfrey using his feet

UCF was extremely effective running option plays against BC, especially when Godfrey kept the ball and ran himself. UCF ran 15 option plays against BC and gained 90 yards and scored one touchdown on those plays. Godfrey kept it 6 times and gained 42 yards including the touchdown.

This was huge because Godfrey kept it mostly early in the game and that opened up the other options for the rest of the game. Godfrey also was able to get yards keeping it on the option even when there wasn’t much to work with.

Godfrey was most deadly when UCF brought a WR in motion before the snap and ran a triple option. The four times that UCF ran this type of play, Godfrey kept it every time for 33 yards. This was the only triple option play that UCF ran in the game and Godfrey read it perfectly each time. Godfrey has now kept it on option plays 10 times on the season and has gained 76 yards and scored three touchdowns.

The rest of the damage Godfrey has done rushing has been on pass plays where he has decided to scramble. He scrambled 5 times for 24 yards against BC and once for 18 yards against Charleston Southern. Godfrey scrambled three times on third down situations against BC and picked up the first down once while another time getting 8 yards on a third-and-9. The one time he scrambled against Charleston Southern, it was on third-and-11 and he ran for 18 yards.

Godfrey has been huge in so many ways to keep drives alive and change the defense UCF faces when they don’t necessarily have anything to work with.

UCF’s money power running play

The money running play UCF ran in the game was pretty obvious whenever it was coming. The Knights would set up in the pistol with Billy Giovanetti as a wing back to the strong side. They would basically run a dive with the left guard Theo Goins pulling over the right guard and just power through BC.

They did this 9 times in the game and gained 42 yards which is a pretty good average considering they ran this play mostly in short yardage situations and BC probably knew it was coming since UCF never passed out of this formation.

The one time it didn’t work was on the fourth-and-1 play that UCF was stuffed on. But on that play it looked like there was some confusion on UCF’s part as they didn’t run the power dive the way they had every other time in the game. Instead of Goins pulling to the right, Jordan Rae and Justin McCray seemed to try and pull or at least get to the outside right after the snap.

With both of them doing this BC was able to easily blow up the play right where it was designed and get to Brynn Harvey in the backfield. The low snap didn’t help with this either. There seemed to either be miscommunication with UCF’s offensive line on this play or maybe it had to do with how BC was lined up.

The other chance is that maybe this wasn’t exactly the same play as all the others and UCF was looking to get a seal on the outside for a long gain but that doesn’t seem like something UCF would try on a fourth-and-1.

This setup…

UCF ran to the right 30 times against BC while running left just 11 times. UCF was able to lull BC into expecting what was coming by running to the strong side predominantly. In the second half, UCF ran right on 7 of their first 8 running plays.

Then UCF finally ran left on a read option where Godfrey handed off to Latavius Murray and he picked up 19 yards. UCF proceeded to run right on the last four plays of that drive culminating in a touchdown to go up 23-3.

Then on the first play of their next drive UCF came out in the pistol wing back strong formation that they had been using so much in the second half, only this time they moved the wing back to the weak side. This set up the jet sweep handoff to McDuffie to the left side of the field where he went 28 yards.

Something to notice about this UCF offense is how they set up their opponents by running to the same side over and over and wearing down the defense and then try to set up big plays on misdirection type of plays to the weak side.

Three is better than one, even if one of the three is Ronnie Weaver

UCF’s three-running back attack was very successful in this game. While Weaver is the starter and appears to be the weakest player of the three I’m not that mad about him playing this role. I used to always complain about UCF in the past and how they would run one back too much in a game and now they’re spreading it out over three guys so this is definitely a good thing.

The greatest advantage of this is having a fresh running back throughout the game. Murray was able to play the role of a sort of closer in this game. He had the best rushing average in the game with most of his big runs coming in the fourth quarter.

This is a good thing as long as UCF gets off to good starts and doesn’t fall behind in games. What I’m worried about mostly is playing someone that’s going to give UCF a game and having UCF run Weaver a little too much early on while he gets his 2 yards per carry and it throws off UCF’s whole offense.

While Weaver only got 22 yards on 11 carries against BC, I’m not too worried about him improving upon that in the future even when we play better teams.

Godfrey through the air

The UCF Offense didn’t get off to a great start against BC. Godfrey was a little quick to take off instead of staying in the pocket. That seemed to have to do with BC getting a little of pressure around him and he wasn’t comfortable like he was last week. But once he started hurting BC with his feet, BC stopped bringing as much pressure and Godfrey got comfortable passing.

The one area where UCF doesn’t look as solid as everywhere else is their downfield passing game. So far Godfrey has gone with a lot of short passes and check downs which has been fine so far.

He struggled in the season opener to get anything going downfield but had some success against BC. This happened the best when Godfrey was in the shotgun and threw after play action, deep over the middle on seam routes. He did this twice for 23 yards and 28 yards to Nissley and Worton, respectively. This is a good way to get Godfrey throwing deep since UCF doesn’t really have any wide receivers we can line up and throw fades to.

Godfrey has also been successful finding receivers on crossing routes. This is always a result of having time in the pocket too since these routes take time to develop. Godfrey was 4-for-4 for 47 yards on crossing routes against BC and it is also the passing pattern in which Godfrey has racked up the most yards on so far this season.

UCF has thus far been pretty unsuccessful with screen passes this season, an area where I think they will start doing more damage in the future. Godfrey completed two WR screens for just 5 yards against BC. But the way the UCF wide receivers have been blocking downfield so far this season, I look for UCF to have more success doing this the rest of the year.

What to look for the rest of the season

Since UCF’s on-campus stadium, they have always been much better playing at home than on the road. UCF will be on the road the next two weeks, traveling to Miami to play FIU next week. While this doesn’t seem like a tough opponent on paper, FIU has been playing pretty good so far this season and it might not be too easy of a game.

At the end of the day UCF should win simply because of their superior athletes and team speed. That has been the biggest reason, combined with Godfrey, why UCF seems to be making the jump to a potential BCS conference-caliber team. FIU shouldn’t be able to match up with this.

I expect UCF to stick mostly with the strategy of trying to pound it on the ground game like they did against BC. If UCF can throw in a few more misdirection type of option plays to get Godfrey in space, that could be another way they have success versus FIU.

As long as they get their ground game established early and their defense plays well enough to give UCF a lead in this game, I expect them to take some shots downfield with Godfrey off of play action. The play action passes to the seam were very effective against BC and should also work against FIU.

It all comes down to some basic football with UCF and establishing the ground game and playing sound defense will dictate their success against FIU and I see no reason why they won’t start the season 3-0.