John Denton's Knights Insider

Oct. 26, 2009

By John Denton

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A huge, nationally televised game - one that could shake up the Conference USA standings and put UCF back in the race - looms this Sunday night for the Knights. But before we jump ahead to the Sunday night game against Marshall at Bright House Networks Stadium, let's review UCF's 49-7 thumping of Rice this past Saturday in Houston.

Here are five things that we learned from UCF's most lopsided victory in three seasons:

1. UCF has plenty of fight left.
Some wondered how UCF would bounce back from the devastating loss to Miami, a game that was especially excruciating to lose because the Knights had chances to be right in the game. But head coach George O'Leary didn't question his team's fight or heart, saying on Thursday that UCF had one of its better weeks of practice and the players were ready to play.

Were they ever! UCF rolled up 465 yards of offense and 21 first downs and was never threatened in the game. The Knights were so good that even their second unit got plenty of much-needed work.

The 42-point win was the most lopsided road victory in the 31-year history of the program.

O'Leary told his team repeatedly that it still has plenty to play for, and the Knights responded to that message. A bowl berth is still very much on the table for this team, and there's even an outside shot at winning C-USA's East Division if things fall right.

2. A.J. Guyton is emerging as UCF's top receiver.
Guyton, a redshirt sophomore from Miami, did a little bit of everything on Saturday. He had a 76-yard catch-and-run effort on the game's third play, setting the tone for the game.

And in the second quarter, Guyton tricked Rice when he took a handoff from Hodges and raised up and threw a 36-yard touchdown strike to Kamar Aiken that put the Knights up 28-0.

Guyton accounted for 187 all-purpose yards - 113 receiving on four catches, 36 passing and 38 yards on punt returns. Guyton became the first UCF player with a touchdown catch and a TD pass in the same game since current UCF assistant coach Sean Beckton did it against Texas Southern in 1990.

Guyton, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, has proven this season that his tremendous speed has returned. He's been UCF's most reliable receiver of late, burning Memphis and Rice with big games. He's tied for second on the team in catches (19) and his 16.1 yards per catch ranks only behind Aiken among those with at least 10 catches.

3. The freshmen are stepping up big time.
Cornerback Josh Robinson, UCF's top recruit last offseason, showed his enormous potential in the third quarter with a dazzling play.

Robinson stepped in front of a Nick Fanuzzi pass and returned it 24 yards for the first touchdown of his college career. It also was UCF's first defensive touchdown of the season.

Foes have picked on Robinson at times this season, hoping to take advantage of his youth in the secondary. But his improvement has been quite noticeable of late and his coverage is getting tighter in the secondary. Saturday's pick-six was likely the first of many to come from the 5-10, 189-pound cornerback from Sunrise.

Kemal Ishmael, another freshman defensive back from North Miami Beach, also had a huge game in the UCF secondary. He added a career-best 11 tackles, eight of them being solo stops. Clearly, the future is bright for UCF's young, improving secondary.

4. Brett Hodges was solid, and so too was Rob Calabrese.
Hodges was his usual steady, efficient self on Saturday by hitting on eight of 13 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown in slightly more than two quarters of work. The 76-yard pitch-and-catch with Guyton was Hodges' longest touchdown ever and he also added his first rushing TD ever.

And Calabrese, the starter for the first two games of the season, came off the bench and played well in relief in the blowout. He had TD passes of 52 and 13 yards to Jamar Newsome and Ricky Kay in the second half of the rout.

5. The defense is ready for Marshall and Marshall.
Yes, that's right Marshall and Marshall. The Thundering Herd have lost lopsided games to Virginia Tech and West Virginia, but they are a factor in Conference USA again. At 3-1, they are tied with East Carolina and Southern Miss atop the East Division. UCF is positioned just behind that group at 2-2 and ready to move up with a win on Sunday night at Bright House Networks Stadium.

The other Marshall is junior tailback Darius Marshall, who ranks second in the nation in rushing at 136 yards per game. He's run for 10 touchdowns and boasts and impressive 5.67-yard per carry average. Marshall, who ran for 133 yards and his fifth 100-yard game of the season in Saturday's 27-7 defeat of UAB, was allowed back on the team this fall after an offseason arrest.

UCF's stout run defense should present Darius Marshall his stiffest test of the season. The Knights' run defense ranks 11th in the country -- one spot ahead of Florida's acclaimed defense - allowing just 92.2 yards a game on the ground.

Darius Marshall had some success against UCF last season in Huntington, W.Va., running for 142 yards on 16 carries. He ripped off a 61-yard gainer, but he failed to find the end zone against the Knights. A sixth 100-yard rushing day this season will be especially difficult, especially considering how well the Knights are playing defensively these days.

John Denton's Knights Insider appears every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.