John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Ready For NC State

Sept. 11, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The memory of their defeat of NC State still fresh in many of their minds some three years later, UCF's football players know very well what's at stake Saturday night against the Wolfpack.

Tonight's 7:30 nationally televised kickoff against NC State offers UCF a chance at gaining some long-sought national attention as a program definitively on the rise. A victory over a BCS-affiliated school would also confirm the notion that UCF has the goods for a truly special season.

After all, that's what happened in 2007 - a season that UCF opened with a 25-23 defeat of the Wolfpack in Raleigh, N.C. That win paved the way for UCF's Conference USA championship season and its berth in the Liberty Bowl.

Now, UCF (1-0) sees this game against NC State (1-0) as a chance at earning some respect and making a resounding statement.

``First, it's a game at home and we don't want to lose at home all season,'' said senior wide receiver Kamar Aiken, who won his first college game against NC State three years ago. ``But this is also the kind of game where we can build some confidence and get some of the respect that we deserve across the country.''

UCF's players drew great inspiration from Boise State's defeat of Virginia Tech in Washington, D.C. on Monday night. Like UCF, Boise State is on the outside of the BCS looking in. The Broncos have played their way into college football's big picture with big wins against Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia Tech through the years. And now UCF is hoping to follow a similar path starting Saturday night.

``We as athletes feel, whether we're at schools like UCF or Boise State, like we're on par with the athletes at other schools. But we don't always get the same respect because we play smaller schools,'' said senior defensive end David Williams, who played on special teams in the 2007 defeat of NC State. ``With what Boise State is doing, they're starting to get some respect. We're hoping with a good game (against NC State) that we can get the same type of respect.''

Added senior linebacker Derrick Hallman: ``(Junior wide receiver) A.J. Guyton is my roommate and we were looking at each other after Boise State went up 10-0 and we were wishing we played (the next day). We're just so excited to play this game.''

If UCF hopes to garner the victory and national respect that it so desperately seeks, it needs some factors to fall into place. Quarterback Rob Calabrese looked like the picture of poise and confidence in last week's 38-7 rout of South Dakota, hitting on his first nine passes and 12 of 15 throws for 176 yards. And sophomore tailback Jonathan Davis, running mostly behind UCF's dominating right side of the line, ground out 107 yards and a score in just his second collegiate start.

And those were just two of the weapons on display in the opener. By design, UCF offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe kept South Dakota guessing by giving the ball to nine different rushers in the opener. And in the passing game, Guyton had eight receptions but in all eight players caught balls.

Wide receiver is the spot where UCF has the most talent and quality depth and the plan is to spread the ball around to keep teams like NC State guessing.

``We push each other extremely hard and every day in a competition,'' Guyton said. ``If you drop a ball that's 10 push-ups whether you get them right there or later. We hold each other accountable. We want to see each other succeed and we push each other to be great.''

Defensively, the Knights must find a way to contain dynamic NC State quarterback Russell Wilson, who completed 21 of 31 passes for 306 yards and four touchdowns last week against Western Carolina. Wilson will attack the Knights vertically as evidenced by the 5,288 yards and 52 TD passes in his college career.

UCF used a similarly strong-armed 5-foot-11 quarterback (freshman phenom Jeff Godfrey) in practice this week to simulate how NC State will use Wilson to attack the defense.

``I think that's the big factor in the game - stopping the long ball and their vertical passing game,'' UCF head coach George O'Leary said. ``Our secondary will be tested, but the rush and the coverage go hand in hand. Teams throw the ball so well that you have to keep some heat on the quarterback. (Wilson) plays with great poise and he has great scrambling ability, so we'll have our work cut out for us defensively.

O'Leary was pleased with the focus and enthusiasm of his players in practice all week, and he got the sense that this game carries great significance to UCF's football program. He knows that a victory on Saturday night could do so much for the Knights.

``I think they understand what's at stake,'' the coach said. ``They know there are four nonconference games and if you want recognition you have to win these games. It's critical, it's a home game and this team knows they have to defend their house.''


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