A Focus on 2009

Jan. 12, 2009

As the UCF football team closes the door on 2008 and heads towards 2009, there is plenty of cause for optimism. It is easy to simply point to George O'Leary's record at UCF where every odd-numbered year the Knights have played for the Conference USA Championship and reached a bowl game. But, looking at things more scientifically, there is an ample amount of returning talent which will surely be bolstered by a solid crop of recruits come February.

UCF was able to regularly pressure the quarterback this past fall and, if not get a sack, often disrupt the flow of a play with a forced hurry or by flushing the passer out of the pocket. That pressure helped UCF not only rank fifth in the nation in TFLs and 27th in sacks but also contributed to the team's 18 interceptions which ranked eighth in the nation. Meanwhile, UCF led C-USA in total defense, rushing defense and passing efficiency defense.

Amongst the many returners in the trenches are Bruce Miller and Torrell Troup, both of whom earned All-C-USA recognition in 2008. Miller racked up 17 tackles for loss in 2008, including seven sacks while Troup proved invaluable as a blocker-eating force inside and managed to make 12.5 TFLs himself. Miller was used as both an end and a tackle during the season and that versatility helped pay off towards the tail end of the season as it allowed Jarvis Geathers to get more reps at end. The son of NFL star "Jumpy" Geathers did not disappoint as, in his first two starts (vs. East Carolina and Southern Miss) he combined to make 12 tackles, seven of which were for a loss including five sacks. Miller meanwhile was able to force four hurries vs. ECU and record a pair of TFLs against Southern Miss, including a sack.

Overall, UCF brings back seven of its top eight in this group, including tackle Travis Timmons who started seven games in 2008. Reserve defensive ends T.J. Harnden and David Williams both gained a fair amount of experience in 2008 while tackle Wes Tunuufi Sauvao saw an ample amount of playing time as well.

Not only will UCF bring back its entire linebacking corps from 2008 but it also will bring several valuable additions back into the mix in Cory Hogue and Darius Nall.

Derrick Hallman and Lawrence Young, UCF's two outside linebackers, were both named honorable mention All-C-USA in 2008. Each proved to be more than capable both rushing the passer and dropping into coverage, combining to make 18.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks while breaking up 11 passes and intercepting one apiece. Meanwhile, Chance Henderson left little up to chance in the always-important middle linebacking role as he produced a 57-tackle season, 8.5 of which were for a loss with 3.5 sacks.

In addition to its talented starting trio, UCF brings back fifth-year senior Hogue who made 20 tackles in just three games played, including 3.5 TFLs and a sack, before suffering from the extremely rare compartment syndrome for the second time during UCF's contest at UTEP. UCF will also bring back Nall who earned C-USA All-Freshman accolades in 2007 but missed all of 2008 while undergoing cancer treatments.

UCF also was able to work several reserves into the rotation in 2008, including Jordan Richards and Alex Thompson which should pay dividends next fall.

The core of a defense is usually its linebacker play and the Knights are more than ready for success in 2009 at that position.

While there is no question that UCF's secondary will take a significant blow in losing four seniors who combined to start 183 games and make 50 interceptions, the good news is that all of the backups saw some playing time in 2008 and will not be approaching the position cold. Between its regular use of nickel and dime packages, along with contributions on special teams, Emery Allen, Darin Baldwin, Justin Boddie and Reggie Weams all played in at least nine games and combined to make 51 tackles. While none will have the experience of being starters, all will have the experience of playing for the Knights.

In 2009, UCF will return the student-athletes who accounted for 100-percent of its rushing yards, 100-pecent of its passing yards and 100-percent of its receiving yards, a truly remarkable stat. The offensive numbers were not as high as the Knights might have liked in 2008, in part out of tremendous youth, but that youth has now matured and will have a leg up on its competitors in 2009.

UCF also welcomes back two veteran leaders on offense who missed most of the 2008 season with injuries and were sorely missed. Rocky Ross and Corey Rabazinski, although playing in just four and six games respectively, still finished as UCF's fourth and fifth-leading receivers on the year and also brought a presence to the huddle that proved irreplaceable.

This past year, UCF was one of just four schools nationally to start a true freshman at quarterback in Rob Calabrese. Not surprisingly, only one of those four teams (Ohio State and Terrelle Prior) is headed to a bowl game with that level of experience at such a crucial position. UCF will also welcome back Michael Greco and Joe Weatherford who both saw significant action in 2008.

UCF's tailback pool was equally youthful with four freshmen ball carriers, three of them true freshmen right out of the high school ranks. Brynn Harvey took the reigns as starter midseason and produced a C-USA All-Freshman result with team highs of 125 carries and 519 yards. His 150-yard effort on the road at Marshall, including a game-sealing 50-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter showed what could be to come for the Largo native.

The entire receiving corps is back and will only get stronger with the return of Ross and Rabazinski.

In 2009, UCF had four new starters on the offensive line including two redshirt freshmen, one of which (Adam Nissley) started the year at tight end. Next year, the team will have four returning starters on the offensive line, all of whom will be a year smarter and stronger.

In all, UCF will bring back 10 of 11 starters on offense for next fall which will likely give the Knights one of C-USA's most veteran units despite the fact that they will still be fairly young and laden with sophomores.

One challenge with a young team can often be winning games on the road but UCF proved down the stretch run that it was capable of accomplishing that as the Knights won conference games in frigid temperatures at both Marshall and Memphis in November. Winning on the road will be crucial to the 2009 team's success. UCF will leave Orlando five times with four of those games coming against teams which are playing in bowl games this year as the Knights will head to Texas, East Carolina, Rice and Southern Miss in 2009 along with a trip to UAB.

The home schedule is no walk in the park either. UCF fans will get to enjoy seven home games at Bright House Networks Stadium. In-state foe Miami will travel north to Orlando for a rematch of a closely-contested 20-14 game this past fall at Dolphin Stadium. UCF will also welcome MAC Champion Buffalo for a non-conference tilt and Samford from the Football Championship Subdivision. The Bulldogs went 6-5 in 2008. The Knights will play host to Marshall, Memphis, Tulane and Houston in C-USA play.

- Leigh Torbin