John Denton's Knights Insider: Seniors Keeping Focus on UAB

Oct. 1, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - In an attempt to head off any lingering hangover from the crushing loss to Kansas State, UCF's Derrick Hallman aggressively went on the attack earlier this week.

Like most Knights players, Hallman was highly frustrated by UCF's 17-13 loss to K-State. But he was determined not to let one loss - even one that Hallman called the most difficult of his UCF career - to sabotage the season.

So Hallman, along with a couple of other senior leaders, called a players-only team meeting. The message was simple: While UCF has missed a couple of opportunities that could have positioned it for a 4-0 start, all that's important now is trying to go 8-0. As in, winning eight consecutive Conference USA games.

``I just wanted to talk to guys because I didn't want them to have that hangover because it's tough to get over a loss like that,'' said Hallman, UCF's second-leading tackler with 21 stops. ``We still have everything in front of us and everything in the world to play for. We can go 8-0 and go to the conference championship game and win that too. We have a 10-win season and nobody is going to cry over spilled milk. That's what I wanted to get over to them. Make everybody else pay for that feeling after losing to Kansas State.''

UCF (2-2) will be hoping to take out its frustration on UAB (1-3) when the two C-USA rivals play Wednesday night at 8 p.m. at Bright House Networks Stadium. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN, but the Knights' focus is more on getting back on track than any sort of national exposure.

``As most competitors would (respond) they're disappointed, but you have to make your corrections and make sure that they understand that both sides of the ball had opportunities to make plays,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said. ``The biggest concern was that we left a lot of plays on the field offensively, which we'd like to have back. I brought the offense and defense in together to point out how close we are, but you have to make plays.''

With no game this weekend, the Knights have used the extra time to prepare for eight straight conference games over the next eight weeks. O'Leary gave the team three days off to recover from the grind of training camp and the first four games. The Knights will work through the weekend and then play this Wednesday night at home and again next Wednesday in Marshall.

``We're all trying to focus in on UAB. Even though that was a really tough loss, our next really important game starts with the conference play,'' senior defensive end Bruce Miller said. ``UAB is a really good football team and if we're not prepared it could be the same (result) this week as last week.''

Hallman and wide receiver A.J. Guyton felt the need to speak up earlier this week when they saw players still struggling with the loss to Kansas State. UCF dominated the game most of the day, outgaining the Wildcats 344-272 and stuffing Heisman Trophy candidate running back Daniel Thomas (76 yards). But the Knights were ultimately doomed by two missed field goals, scoring just 13 points on six trips inside the 30-yard line and an inability to get a stop on K-State's game-winning touchdown drive.

``That was probably the toughest loss that you'll ever have as a football player,'' Hallman said. ``It's tough to go out there and dominate for 58 or 59 minutes and then lose in the closing seconds because of too many missed opportunities. That's why it's a 60-minute game. We had plenty of opportunities to get off the field on that last drive and we just didn't get the job done.''

Guyton, who leads UCF in catches (16) and receiving yardage (201), said the player's only meeting organized by the seniors helped the team shake the dismal feelings left behind by the K-State loss and refocus on the task at hand.

``We kicked all of the coaches out and all of the people out who wasn't a player and all the seniors stood up,'' Guyton remember. ``It started off with Derrick Hallman, I stood up and said something, David Williams stood up and said something and Brian Watters said something. We let them know that out-of-conference play is over now. Even though we really wanted those games, now is the time to start trying to get that conference championship. That road begins (on Wednesday).''

And UCF will march forward with two quarterbacks. O'Leary said on Friday that he plans to play both freshman Jeff Godfrey and junior Rob Calabrese on Wednesday against UAB. Calabrese started the opener and against NC State, but was relieved by Godfrey. Godfrey, a Miami native, won his first collegiate start at Buffalo and put the Knights in position last week in Kansas with his 99 rushing yards and 92 passing yards. But O'Leary wants more consistency from the offense, and said he'll play the quarterback with the hot hand.

``It's not so much the passing game as it is the execution of it. We have opportunities to make plays, we have to make them,'' he said. ``It's a learning experience and we're working like heck to get it done. We can try to simplify, simplify, but it's also easier for the other side of the ball. Both quarterbacks, I intend on playing both of them. I think that's what we need to be doing. Again, it's a key game and whether it's run or pass, we need to take advantage of opportunities when we have them.''

Watters, who has 12 receptions through the first four games, said UCF still has an opportunity to do great things this season. Like most of his fellow seniors, Watters likes the way the schedule is set up with all of the nonconference games early in the season so that the focus can shift now to trying to win a C-USA crown.

``We all feel that we could be 4-0, but there was a lot of stuff that prevented us from doing that,'' Watters said. ``In order to be undefeated you have to be almost perfect and we did some stuff to take that opportunity away from us. Right now, we're just focused on being 8-0 (in conference play).''


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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.