John Denton's Knights Insider

Dec. 10, 2009

By John Denton

For a quantitative statement as to how downright dominant UCF's defensive line was this football season, you have to look no further than this:

The top five run-stopping teams in the country were as follows: Texas and Alabama (both national championship game participants), TCU (12-0 and in the Fiesta Bowl), UCF (8-4 and in the St. Petersburg Bowl) and Ohio State (Rose Bowl participant).

Lofty company indeed for a Knights defense that allowed a meager 82.5 yards a game on the ground, ranking them fourth overall in the nation. It is a position that the football team takes great pride in because stopping the run is at the core of everything this defense believes in. Stopping the run is about toughness, inner fight and an unbreakable will.

"We take a lot of pride in that as a defense. We talk to them about it and that (no. 4 ranking) and it is important to us," UCF defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said. "These kids have taken a lot of pride in the fact that people can't run the ball against us and won't run the ball. That's something our kids know is very important around here."

UCF's defense returned to the practice field on Thursday in preparation for the Dec. 19 St. Pete Bowl against Rutgers (8-4). The Knights have used the past 12 days to recharge their batteries mentally and physically, while continuing to lift weights, run sprints and break down film.

The Knights will practice six times on campus before heading to St. Pete on Dec. 15. In a postseason game for the third time in five years, UCF is looking for its first-ever bowl win. The Knights are hoping to ride the momentum of having won its final six conference games following a 2-2 start to the season, a surge that they feel will be beneficial versus Rutgers.

"I'm very proud of this team," standout defensive tackle Torrell Troup said. "At the beginning of the year we weren't really clicking on all cylinders, but we gelled as a team. All aspects of a team got tied together and we started rolling together. Now, we've got to keep it going in the bowl game and finish strong."

UCF finished the regular season strong because of the power and diverse skill of its dominant defensive line. Not only did they rank fourth in the country against the run, but the Knights' front seven often spent more time in the backfield than most opposing running backs.

UCF was tied for fifth in the country in sacks per game (3.08) and 11th in the nation in tackles for loss a game (7.58). The 37 sacks and 91 stops for losses allowed UCF to wreak havoc on teams.

Texas failed to crack 100 yards rushing against the Knights, while Miami standout quarterback Jacory Harris was sacked six times by UCF. And when UCF held Tulane to negative-30 yards rushing and 50 total yards - one of the five best defensive efforts of the past decade - it allowed UCF to post the largest shutout (49-0) in Conference USA history.

"I think it speaks volumes about us being in the same league with some of the best defenses in the country," defensive end David Williams said. "Now that we've proven ourselves all season with those guys, we don't expect anything less from ourselves. We're happy with how much we have progressed, but we're not satisfied."

The unquestioned leaders of UCF's defensive line are defensive end Bruce Miller and Troup, the massive defensive tackle. Miller, a junior, was named the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year after recording 12 sacks, 16 tackles for loss and seven more quarterback hurries.

And then, there's the 314-pound Troup on the inside clogging up the middle. He's already been invited to play in the East-West All-Star Shrine Game in Orlando in January and will likely be the first Knight selected in the NFL Draft in the spring.

Because Troup can bench press 225 pounds 36 times and squats 670 pounds, he often requires two blockers to stop him. And that frees up Miller, Jarvis Geathers (11 sacks) and Darius Nall (four sacks) on the outside for one-on-one blocking and ultimately plenty of sacks. Factor in the athleticism and power of tackle Travis Timmons and UCF's ends have been able to keep pressure on quarterbacks coming off the edge. "We know that we're able to do what we're doing on the outside because the defense is having to pay so much attention to Torrell and Travis in the middle," Miller said. "A lot of what we do is based on those guys."

And Huxtable said UCF's success defensively isn't because of some intricate scheme he's designed. It's because he was a group that fights hard on every play and meshes well together.

"I tell them all the time that it ain't the Xs and Os; it's the Jimmys and the Joes," Huxtable said with a chuckle. "There are no magical (coaching) calls. Once it leaves my hands it's up to them to make the magic happen."

And if it doesn't happen, Huxtable is usually quick to point it out on film. The coaching staff has a camera in practice specifically trained to the defensive line, and gaffes and loafing is shown to the entire team in the film room.

"When you don't perform like you are capable the coaches will put you on the spotlight and show everybody," Timmons said. "I've been on the wrong end of that a few times. Accountability is real big with this defense."

UCF coach George O'Leary said that accountability has helped the defensive line become the team's most consistent unit in games and practices because "every day that group steps between the white lines, it's game day for them."

Added Huxtable, who coaches with a hard-edged tough-love mentality: "We tell them every day that the eye in the sky doesn't lie. Everything we do in practice is on film and we'll cut out certain plays and point out lack of effort, poor technique and hold them accountable for everything. We talk about perfect preparation prevents poor performance. We know that if we're going to play well on Saturdays, we have to practice well."

And the numbers and the lofty company that UCF's defense has kept show that the Knights defense has played well this season.

John Denton's Knights Insider appears several times a week on UCFathletics.com. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.