John Denton's Knights Insider: Five Things We Learned

Oct. 10, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Around campus at UCF plans are already in the works to print up and sell ``I SURVIVED THE MARSHALL GAME'' T-shirts. And that's a good thing because the fans and players who slogged through Orlando's wettest night in 61 years deserve something for their water-logged troubles.

When the rains cleared - that is, by Sunday - UCF had a seventh consecutive defeat of Conference USA rivals Marshall, 16-6. The Knights built a 16-0 lead, survived a couple of weather-induced turnovers and rode their smothering defense to a 3-0 record at home this season.

Dead ahead is a showdown at SMU where the Knights (3-2 overall, 1-0 in C-USA play) will be playing as slight underdogs. It is a rematch of last December's C-USA title game, one that was won 17-7 by UCF. Coincidentally, that game is the last time an opponent scored an offensive touchdown at Bright House Networks Stadium and the last time a foe had a passing touchdown against the Knights.

UCFAthletics.com's Knights Insider John Denton takes a look back at the five things that we learned from a soggy Saturday night at Bright House Networks Stadium.

1. Through five games, UCF's defense is on some kind of roll. Here's the most telling statistic of just how good the Knights have been defensively so far: The longest touchdown drive of the season by an opponent has been 38 yards. In fact, UCF's defense has given up just three touchdowns all season - and two of those came after fumbled punt returns.

Marshall's lone touchdown came off a 12-yard fumble return by the Herd's defense. Of the six touchdowns scored against UCF this season, two have come off fumble returns (FIU and Marshall) and another was on a kickoff return (BYU). Against Marshall, UCF's defense surrendered just six first downs and 130 yards. The Thundering Herd didn't get their second first down of the game until the midpoint of the third quarter.

Check out the national NCAA statistics and you see that there's no weakness when it comes to UCF's defense. The Knights rank first in the nation in pass defense, second in scoring defense and total defense and eighth in run defense.

2. Finally, Brynn Harvey is all the way back. Harvey made his first start in 22 months on Saturday night, and it was a big moment for the junior in a variety of ways. Not only did he run for 180 yards on 30 carries, but Harvey was starting for the first time since the St. Pete Bowl in 2009. He tore his ACL in spring drills in 2010 and was forced to miss all of last season while Latavius Murray and Ronnie Weaver emerged.

Harvey split time with the other two backs through the first four games, but was promoted to starter following the open date. He rewarded UCF head coach George O'Leary for that decision right away, running for 50 yards on the game's first play. And Harvey said he loved running in the rain, topping 100 yards in the first quarter and gaining 133 by halftime.

Harvey is UCF's starter for the foreseeable future. O'Leary likes his humble, low-key approach, not to mention his vision in the hole and his ability to get hidden yardage by making tacklers miss.

3. UCF's grass playing surface held up nicely in the rain. While the torrential rain and blustery winds wreaked havoc on the game, the playing surface held up quite well in the miserable conditions.

O'Leary joked with Robert Sample, UCF's Superintendent of Grounds, after the game that the field held up so well because the tarp was left on the field all afternoon. When a confused Sample informed O'Leary that there's no tarp to cover the field from rainy conditions, O'Leary burst into laughter. He said that the grounds crew deserved special attention for the drainage of the field and the toughness of the grass under harsh conditions. Puddles formed throughout the game, but they quickly disappeared because of the superior drainage on the playing surface.

4. Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Victor Gray has emerged as one of the true leaders on this team. Before the season, O'Leary wondered where the leadership would come from on this UCF team following the loss of 19 seniors. While he prefers to rely heavily on his senior class, O'Leary also stressed that leadership can come from any players, even ones classified as redshirt sophomores.

Gray, who has been UCF's most consistent defensive lineman all season, had five tackles and a whopping four quarterback hurries against Marshall. And when he shot off the ball in the second quarter, a Marshall lineman was forced to hold him to prevent a sack in the end zone. That resulted in a safety that gave UCF a commanding 16-0 lead.

When Harvey's fumble led to Marshall's lone score that cut it to 16-6, Gray was the one speaking up along the sideline, encouraging the offense to get back on track. Listening from nearby, O'Leary was pleased with the way his big defensive tackle encouraged the offense without any negativity.

``He goes, `Come on, we're in this together. You guys got to carry your weight.' And there's nothing better, I don't think, than peer pressure,'' O'Leary said. ``Peer pressure, because they get tired of listening to the coaches at times. I think that's good. I don't think that's bad. It wasn't done in a `you versus us' deal. It was done more as let's go. We've all got to do what we're supposed to do.''

5. Special kudos to the fans who stuck it out to the very end of the game. The only people who had to be happy about Saturday night's rain were the ones at Bright House Networks, who saw a bump in television ratings for the game because of the nasty weather.

The announced crowd of 24,750 was impressive considering that those fans knew what was coming after it had rained all Friday night and throughout the day on Saturday. And for thousands of fans to stick it out in hard, pounding rain that never let up in the game was very impressive. Get those folks an ``I SURVIVED THE MARSHALL GAME'' T-shirt.

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