John Denton's Knights Insider

Sept. 16, 2009

By John Denton

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The icy, cold glare of junior safety Derrick Hallman tells you right away he isn't one bit happy with the play of the UCF defense through two football games.

Through eight quarters of football, UCF's defense has forced just one turnover. That's especially frustrating considering how much the Knights practice strip drills and ball-hawking in practice and preach jarring the ball free.

The Knights have recovered just one fumble in two games, but have yet to snag an interception in 66 pass attempts. That's particularly galling to Hallman, the captain of UCF's young secondary and one of the unquestioned leaders of the defense. He has been especially hard on himself because of the lack of turnovers forced, saying he expects more and he expects it to start this Saturday night when UCF (1-1) hosts Buffalo (1-1) at Bright House Networks Stadium.

``Subpar as far as my expectations,'' said Hallman, who admitted that at times he lets his emotions get the best of him on the football field. ``I've had a couple of mental mistakes and I've missed a few tackles. That's not my standard and I don't expect to keep playing like that.''

Hallman and UCF's secondary should have plenty of opportunities for interceptions against a Bulls team that has rung up the points and yards through the air so far this season. Buffalo, winners in Week 1 against UTEP and losers in Week 2 at Pittsburgh, ranks 16th in the nation in pass offense (296.0 yards per game) and 48th in total offense (404.5 yards per game). Sophomore quarterback Zach Maynard threw for 400 yards against Pitt, completing six passes of at least 24 yards.

Hallman, who has 12 tackles and one stop for a loss so far, said facing a pass-heavy offense such as Buffalo's is the ultimate challenge for a defensive back. He is hoping that this is the game where UCF's young secondary shows its tremendous promise and finally snags its first interception of the season.

``We're just looking forward to more opportunities because they throw the ball a lot,'' said Hallman, a Fort Pierce native. ``It's been two games and we haven't had an interception yet, so we need to get some interceptions this week. That first (interception) is always the toughest one to get. But I just feel like once we get it, we'll be on a roll then and get a bunch of them.''

UCF coach George O'Leary has made forcing turnovers a point of emphasis this week in practice. He said the process starts with getting more pressure on the quarterback and getting more tacklers around the ball. And in the secondary, he wants UCF's defensive backs playing more aggressively and looking to make big plays rather than offering up too much cushion.

``Yeah, (the lack of turnovers) is really bugging me,'' O'Leary said. ``That's something that we've done a good job with in the past. Turnovers occur because of your front seven and we have to get more guys around the ball. And secondly, we work on stripping drills and forcing more turnovers.''

O'Leary is also upset that UCF's defense has allowed foes to complete third down tries 35 percent of the time this season. Said the coach: ``We're playing too many downs out there and the critical down is third down. You have to get off the field and that is the key.''

O'Leary said earlier this season that he considers Hallman to be one of the key players in UCF's re-tooled defense. An all-state safety in high school, Hallman was switched to linebacker early in his career at UCF. But following the graduation of Joe Burnett, Sha'reff Rashad, Jason Venson and Johnell Neal, Hallman was moved back to the secondary to because of his willingness to hit and his leadership skills. He's been a calming influence for freshman Josh Robinson and juniors Darin Baldwin, Reggie Weams and Justin Boddie.

Hallman said he felt no pressure to live up to the precedent set by the previous UCF secondary. But he does still talk often to Rashad, listening to his advice about playing safety.

``We have our own legacy to build, so I don't think about those guys anymore,'' Hallman said, referring to last season's star-studded secondary.

``It hasn't been hard (switching positions.) I take everything in stride and every game is a learning process for me. But with a young secondary and I'm a guy who has played the most, I try to lead by example for them."

Hallman took last week's loss to Southern Miss especially hard. He felt that the 19 points that the Knights offense scored should have been enough to win the game. UCF's goal is to hold teams to 17 points, and if it can do that, Hallman thinks UCF will be back on track real soon.

``I told (wide receiver) Kamar (Aiken) and (quarterback) Brett Hodges that if they can score 20 points a game we should win every one of them from here on out,'' Hallman predicted. ``We don't expect to give up more than 17 points to any team. That's our goal and that's what we expect.''

John Denton's Knights Insider runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.