John Denton's Knights Insider: Quincy McDuffie Key To UCF Success In Memphis

Dec. 30, 2010

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By John Denton

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (UCFathletics.com) - Much has been said and written about the Liberty Bowl matchup between UCF cornerback Josh Robinson and Georgia superstar wide receiver A.J. Green. And there certainly has been plenty of debate about whether or not UCF freshman phenom Jeff Godfrey can slice up the Bulldogs' defense.

But one overlooked aspect of Friday's AutoZone Liberty Bowl could come down to the special teams, an area where UCF (10-3) is quite possibly the best in the nation and Georgia (6-6) isn't too shabby either.

Sparked by the blazing speed of sophomores Quincy McDuffie and Robinson, UCF ranks first in the nation in kickoff returns and 10th in the country in punt returns. Individually, McDuffie's 32.65-yard return average is second in the country and he is one of just nine players in the nation with two kickoff return touchdowns this season. And Robinson, who will certainly have his hands full defensively with Green, is fifth in the country in punt return average at 17.29 yards.

``Field position provides a lot of hidden yards in a season and has really played a vital role in helping us win games,'' UCF special teams coach Tim Salem said. ``We're No. 1 in America in kickoff returns and Georgia is No. 5 in kickoff coverage. On punt returns, we're 10th and Georgia is No. 4 in net punting. That will be a real battle, their coverage against our return game, and it'll be fun to watch.''

Quite possibly no Knight is more fun to watch than McDuffie, who in high school ran Florida's fastest 200-meter dash ever and has shown his lightning speed at UCF on several occasions. He took a kick back 93 yards against NC State and opened the Tulane rout with a 95-yard score. Those came after a freshman year in which McDuffie ran a kickoff back for a touchdown in his first-ever college game and had another long run back to open the 2009 St. Pete Bowl against Rutgers.

For 5-foot-10, 177-pound McDuffie, all he needs is a tiny crack and he's a threat to score at any time.

``It's been a way for me to set the tone, give our offense some really good field position and get the crowd amped up. I feel like it's a responsibility that I have in my hands to get us off to a good start,'' said McDuffie, an Orlando native. ``If there's a seam, I have pretty good feeling that no one is going to catch me.''

Salem chuckled at the notion that McDuffie is merely a threat to score if he gets a step on the defense, saying that he's never seen the speedy sophomore get tracked down once in two seasons. What's even more amazing, Salem said, is that McDuffie is so fast that at times he can even outrun would-be tacklers who seemingly have the angle on stopping him.

``You're just not going to catch him. You have to have an angle on him to have a chance because he's really fast, and you still might not get him,'' Salem said. ``He accelerates like a cheetah. He goes from zero to top speed in the blink of an eye. Teams have kicked to us in a variety of ways, but for us it's just a matter of getting a block.''

Salem said a big reason behind UCF's success on special teams is because of its emphasis on it in practice on a daily basis and its willingness to use starting-quality players. Combining the per return averages of the four phases of special teams (kickoff returns, net kickoff coverage, punt returns and net punting), the Knights rank first in the nation ahead of powerhouse programs TCU, Oregon, LSU, Florida, Nebraska, Southern Cal, Virginia Tech and Alabama.

UCF standout senior Bruce Miller, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year in Conference USA, has been a four-year starter on the kick return team. He said it's a job that he takes as seriously as his role at defensive end.

``I take a lot of pride in that job. You can see from the stats that we put up, where we're in the top in the country in kickoff returns, so our entire unit takes a lot of pride in that,'' Miller said. ``I feel like we don't even have to make blocks on some kicks because (the returners) are so good back there. But when we make our blocks and give them a crease, they have a chance of taking it all the way every time.''

McDuffie chuckles at times when teams kick away from him because he knows that fellow returner Jamar Newsome also features dazzling track speed. The senior had a 70-yard return at Marshall and a 64-yard return against Tulane, showing that the Knights are equally dangerous regardless who the returner is.

McDuffie said of all his returns, the one earlier this season against NC State was his favorite. Rather than just merely using his speed, McDuffie showed an ability to slow down, use his blocks and then explode through the hole as if he'd been fired out of a cannon.

He hopes a similar moment will present itself against Georgia in Friday's Liberty Bowl.

``I really liked the NC State return because everything looked all cluttered and it looked like I was done and wasn't going to go far, but then I was patient, got a block and took the open field when I saw it,'' McDuffie said. ``Really, it's about being patient, being able to channel my speed and then just following my great blocking. And I just feel like once I get a step on them, they're not going to catch me from behind. I hope I get that chance (against Georgia) to get another one.''


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