Marc Daniels' From the Press Box - Gameday: Top Matchups to Watch

Dec. 19, 2009

By Marc Daniels

It is gameday and UCF and Rutgers get set to square off in the 2009 St. Petersburg Bowl. It's a matchup of two teams very similar in their strengths and styles. Let's take a look at the key matchups for today's game:

UCF's Defensive Front vs. Rutgers Ability to Run: UCF is second in the country in stopping the run. Shutting down the Scarlet Knights in this area is huge. Torrell Troup, Bruce Miller, Cory Hogue, Derrick Hallman and rest of that front seven must stuff Rutgers back Joe Martinek. Martinek averages almost five yards a carry. Because of injuries throughout the season, Rutgers rarely uses another running back to carry the ball. But Mohamed Sanu is the second option. He runs out of the wildcat formation and can be very dangerous back there. If UCF can force Rutgers into second and third and long it will be good news for the Knights.

UCF's Secondary vs. Rutgers Wide Receiver Tim Brown: Brown is a senior from Miami who has been hobbled by an ankle injury and has been limited in practice. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano says he is not sure what Brown can do coming into the game. Assume Brown goes. If anything, Rutgers will use him to stretch the defense. Brown averaged over 20 yards a catch and UCF's secondary has been solid, but has given up a few big plays.

UCF's Run Game vs. Rutgers Defensive Front: The Scarlet Knights allow less than 110 yards on the ground per game. Defensive end George Johnson and tackle Scott Vallone are very good. UCF's offensive line must give Brynn Harvey and Jonathan Davis holes to work. Ball control will be key in the game and UCF needs to establish a running attack. Brett Hodges cannot be in second and long all night.

Third Down Offense vs. Third Down Defense: This applies to both teams but it will be key in this game. UCF's defense must get off the field when it has a chance to do so. They cannot give up any third and longs. Do not allow Sanu to break a play out of the wildcat and get 12 yards on a third and 11. The same applies for UCF. Rutgers defense is allowing only 31 percent conversions on third down. UCF must convert those third and short. It's a game where one or two yards must be converted to keep the possession going.

Forcing Turnovers vs. Preventing Turnovers: Rutgers is +20 in turnover ratio. That's very good. In fact, they are +16 in fumbles. That means they strip the ball. UCF backs and receivers must protect the ball. UCF is +8 in turnovers, and the +8 is in the fumble category. In a game where both teams are similar, a turnover could be the difference in a game.

Quincy McDuffie and AJ Guyton vs. Devin McCourty and Mohamed Sanu: UCF's kick and punt returners vs. their counterparts. Both teams have explosive return specialists. A big return could shift momentum. Here is where UCF's outstanding kick coverage unit can be big. UCF must fly down the field as they have all season and pin Rutgers back and force them to go the length of the field.

UCF Crowd vs. Rutgers Crowd: It should not be a contest in this category. Almost 20,000 UCF fans are expected. Make yourself heard. Have Tropicana Field become Bright House Networks Stadium West. There is no question UCF feeds off the energy of a home crowd. Become a factor. Be loud and make Rutgers have problems calling plays and become a 12th man for the Knights.

It should be a great game. Two teams that are very similar will square off. Look for a game in the mid to upper 20s and I think a big return can be the play we look back as the deciding factor.

Marc Daniels' From the Press Box runs several times per month on UCFAthletics.com. Listen to Marc during UCF football, men's basketball and baseball radio broadcasts on the UCF-ISP Sports Network. Each weekday, Marc hosts "The Beat of Sports" on ESPN 1080 in Orlando from 9-11 a.m.