John Denton's Knights Insider: Knights Hope to Tame Tigers

Nov. 26, 2010

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By John Denton

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (UCFAthletics.com) - Since late in the 2006 season, UCF is a perfect 6-0 on the road when other teams are celebrating Senior Day. The hope now is the Knights will push that mark to 7-0 on Saturday when they play at Memphis, and that in turn will give UCF a redo of sorts of its own Senior Day.

UCF's upperclassmen are still visibly bothered by losing at home two weeks ago to Southern Miss on Senior Day, so much that they desperately want another shot at playing at Bright House Networks Stadium again. That opportunity could come on Dec. 4 in the Conference USA title game if the Knights (8-3 overall and 6-1 in conference play) beat Memphis (1-10 and 0-7) on Saturday at the Liberty Bowl.

``You never want to lose your Senior Day and unfortunately we did. But if we take of business this week then we'll have another Senior Day coming up,'' UCF senior wide out Brian Watters said. ``(A C-USA title date) would be for higher stakes in the championship game and that's what the whole team is working hard for. Even the underclassmen feel they owe the seniors that much and want to send us out with a bang.''

With Southern Miss and East Carolina playing on Friday, UCF has known all week that it could have a berth in the title game locked up by Saturday's noon (E.T.) kickoff. Regardless of the scenario, the Knights are going into the Memphis game knowing they have to win to host the title game a week from Saturday. And head coach George O'Leary likes having the pressure of a must-win situation, and he wants the team hurdling into postseason play with plenty of positive momentum.

``Every week you try to pick a theme out that the kids can relate to. I always talk about the circle. Worry about what the people in the circle are doing, not outside the circle,'' O'Leary said of keeping the focus on winning. ``That's the focus right now, winning the game. I am not concerned about Friday's games at all, which could dictate what has to happen Saturday. Our game, we are going to out to win the game and that's what our job is and not to worry about somebody else not doing their job or doing their job. It's making sure we do our job and that's what the focus and discussion has been with the players.''

Still steamed over the home loss to Southern Miss, UCF took out some pent-up frustration on Tulane a week ago and kept itself in position for the third Eastern Division title in six seasons. The Knights battered Tulane for a school-record 31 first-quarter points, once led 38-0 and rolled 61-14. The literally dominated the game from start to finish, scoring on the first play of the game (a 95-yard kickoff return from Quincy McDuffie) and the last play of the game (a 100-yard interception return from freshman Jordan Ozerities).

O'Leary has coached football on the high school, college and professional levels for 43 years and he said that he's never been involved in a game where a team scored on the first and last plays. And the truly unique thing is that the Knights did so without the offense even being on the field.

``It was a very productive game on offense, defense and the kicking game,'' O'Leary said. ``(It was) a good win away and obviously a big game this week with Memphis as far as securing the division title. That is the focus this week with the players.''

Dealing with the distractions of the Thanksgiving holiday was a concern for O'Leary, but the team appears to have come through the shortened week just fine. The non-travel squad was released from football-related responsibilities after Wednesday's practice, meaning the Knights had a skeleton crew for Thursday's Turkey Day practice.

But for a football team that has talked all season about finishing - finishing drills, finishing practices, finishing plays and finishing games - the focus now is solely focused on finishing the regular season the right way. Do that, and the Knights will be in line for a shot at a second conference crown next Saturday in Bright House Networks Stadium.

``You never want to lose your last home game, so we want win and to be back here for that conference championship game,'' senior linebacker Derrick Hallman said. ``We're in the title hunt and chasing the ring and everything that we've earned and done so far is dependent on this game. If we lose this one it all goes down the drain. Our main focus is on finishing what we started and finishing strong.''


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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.