John Denton's Knights Insider: Opening Up the Playbook for Godfrey

Sept. 7, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - It's been almost a year exactly since the memorable night when Jeff Godfrey's legend at UCF took full flight. And, quite frankly, the football program has never been the same since.

With UCF trailing NC State 28-7 last Sept. 11, Godfrey entered the game and breathed life into an offense that was faltering that night. He ran for two touchdowns, combined for 160 total yards and had UCF in position for a tying score before a turnover ended more potential dramatics. And then there was a telling moment most never saw: Godfrey grabbing the jersey of center Jordan Rae and telling the offense to follow him because he was going to get the team back into the game.

Despite being just a true freshman at the time, Godfrey went on to author the finest season in UCF history, helping the Knights become nationally ranked for the first time while winning the Conference USA crown and the Liberty Bowl title.

Now, as Godfrey and the Knights prepare for Saturday night's showdown against Boston College at Bright House Networks Stadium, it's as if the quarterback is a completely different player than the one who captured the imagination of the UCF football program almost 52 weeks ago.

Godfrey considers himself to be a vastly different player now because of his grasp of the offense, confidence and willingness to learn. Head coach George O'Leary has preached to him about the need to elevate his game to the next level by staying in the pocket longer so that pass plays can develop down the field. And offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe has opened up more of the playbook to his rapidly improving quarterback.

``Last year, I was kind of in a shell and still learning from the older guys, but this year I think I've learned a lot and I really know what's going on,'' Godfrey said after Wednesday's workout. ``I feel confident now, I'm trying to pump up the other guys and be that leader that I need to be.''

And then there's this from Taaffe about the metamorphosis of his quarterback: `At the same point now as last season, Jeff is leaps and bounds where he was this time a year ago.''

Godfrey's ability to make plays with both his feet and legs will likely be needed Saturday night against a Boston College defense that specializes in stuffing offenses and playing physical football. Godfrey was plenty impressive in UCF's season-opening 62-0 romp past Charleston Southern, running for three TDs while also passing for 100 yards in just five series of work. He misfired on a couple of throws that could have easily been interceptions, but for the most part he looked like a quarterback who is hungry to elevate his game to the next level this season.

``I'd rate myself as nine out of 10,'' Godfrey said with a chuckle. ``I wanted a couple of the throws back - the long throw to Quincy (McDuffie) and the double route. I did pretty good, ran for three touchdowns, didn't throw any (interceptions) and I was staying in the pocket more. So I think I did pretty well for a first game.''

The challenge now is for Godfrey to improve upon a season in which he was a Freshman All-American and C-USA's Freshman of the Year. He had the highest efficiency rating of any freshman quarterback in the country last season (154.31) while throwing for 2,159 yards and running for another 566 yards. In all, he accounted for 23 touchdowns and hit on 66.8 percent of his passes while throwing just eight interceptions.

But the next level, he and his coaches stress, is the ability to sit in the pocket and pick apart defenses on slow-developing pass plays down the field. It's a push-and-pull struggle at times because Godfrey can be so dazzling when he darts out of the pocket and causes nightmares for opposing defenses.

A whopping 21 times last season, Godfrey sensed pressure in the pocket, tucked the ball under his arm, took off on an unscripted run and scampered for at least 16 yards. That kind of creativity and unpredictability constantly kept defenses off balance and added another dangerous dimension to UCF's offense.

Now a sophomore, more is expected this season from the 5-foot-11, 182-pounder with the explosive speed and the big right arm. The next level for Godfrey is the ability to hang in the pocket longer as plays come open down the field while still retaining the ability to create havoc with his scrambling skills. It's a fine line, for sure, but it's one that UCF is confident that their best playmaker can make.

``He's making better decisions. There were situations (against Charleston Southern) where guys were (blitzing), but they were picked up. Last year, he would have taken off, but he hung in there,'' O'Leary said. ``I don't want to take away his athletic ability and it's a fine line in hanging in the pocket and knowing when to run. He's improved with staying in the pocket, but I don't believe that's his game. But all in all, he's made better decisions.''

Taaffe went back and watched every UCF game again from last season and he marveled at the way Godfrey was able to sense pressure in the pocket without necessarily having to see it. He said with a player as athletic and creative as Godfrey the key is not overloading him with too many restrictions and allowing the player some freedom.

``I try not to coach him too hard,'' Taaffe said with a chuckle. ``Twenty-one times those were chunk plays created by his natural ability and instincts, so you don't ever want to take that away. But at the same time he probably missed some plays if he would have just hung in the pocket another half-second longer. But he'll learn it as he studies tape and studies himself. But his creativity is one of his greatest strengths and you don't want to take that away from him.''

Godfrey said his biggest improvement from last season is the ability to read defenses when in the pocket. In an attempt to not overwhelm his kid quarterback, Taaffe often designed plays last season where Godfrey only had to look to one side of the field and usually only had two reads on a play. Now, Godfrey's growth has allowed UCF to incorporate three and four deep routes in hopes of hitting more ``chunk plays'' in the passing game.

``It's working better that way (staying in the pocket), but coach has told me when I have pressure on me to not be afraid to use my legs. I'm trying to stay in the pocket a little longer, and that's something I've worked on all spring and in camp, and I'm getting better at it,'' Godfrey said. ``I'm better at reading defenses. I know that I have to hang in the pocket longer to let the plays develop. I've gotten better at that and it will make us a better offense.''

O'Leary said that Godfrey instantly commanded the respect of his teammates with his ability to come in that night against NC State a year ago and make plays right away. Godfrey's style of leadership - he's not a scream guy or a yell guy,'' O'Leary said - lets teammates know he's more about substance than style. Put all of those factors together and UCF feels the best is still yet to come from its sophomore quarterback.

``Being a leader is about doing all of the right things all the time - even when people aren't looking at you,'' Godfrey said. ``I think I do a pretty good job of that. I go to class, I make sure everybody else is going to class and do what I have to do on and off the field.

``Last year we had a good season. We won 11 games, won a bowl game and a conference championship, but that's last year,'' Godfrey stressed. ``It's a whole different year. We have to do our jobs and go out and do it again this year.''

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