John Denton's Knights Insider: The Goal is Still Within Reach

Oct. 25, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. - After a weekend of soul-searching following a second-consecutive frustrating loss, this much is certain for UCF's football team: Jeff Godfrey is still the starting quarterback and the Knights still control their own destiny as far as getting back to the Conference USA title game.

UCF head coach George O'Leary reaffirmed his belief in Godfrey as the Knights' playmaking quarterback, but reserved the right to play blossoming redshirt freshman Blake Bortles on Saturday when UCF hosts Memphis at Bright House Networks Stadium.

The Knights, 3-4 overall and 1-2 in C-USA play, have endured several highs and lows thus far this season, but the reality remains that if they win their final five regular-season games they will be in the C-USA title game for a second consecutive season. O'Leary stressed that to his senior class, and that group ultimately passed on the message to the rest of the team that there is still plenty to play for this season.

``We know that if we win out, we control our destiny, we can win the East and get back to that championship game,'' senior tight end Adam Nissley said. ``As crazy as it is with some of the losses that we've had, that opportunity is still there for us. That's the great thing about this conference - we always have a shot. We've kind of shot ourselves in the foot some with some of these games, but don't count us out. We still believe we're going to make a run and get to that championship game.''

UCF maintains those beliefs because three of the last five games are at Bright House Networks Stadium where it has been dominant this season. UCF, which celebrates homecoming this week, is 3-0 at home so far this season while outscoring foes 108-9. And up next is Memphis (2-6 and 1-3), a team UCF has beaten six consecutive times and three straight times in Orlando.

The Knights are attempting to rebound from their second two-game losing streak of the season. UCF fell 38-17 at SMU two weeks ago and then lost 26-24 to UAB on a last-minute field goal. But even in a situation where there appears to be much frustration, hope persists for the Knights, O'Leary stressed.

``This is unfamiliar ground for a lot of young kids on our team, but it's also part of growing up in this sport and there's nothing easy about it,'' O'Leary said. ``It's not the setback, it's how you handle it. I always tell them that 10 percent is the setback and 90 percent of it is how you handle it. And that's what I've addressed to the kids and the fact that we have to move on.

``We have a five-game slate that solves all of our problems. Play them one at a time and let's go to work,'' O'Leary continued. ``That's what they have to buy into. You have to talk to players about what helps them reach their goals. The next five games will dictate exactly what happens to us.''

And it will likely happen with Godfrey under center as UCF's starting quarterback. The reigning C-USA Freshman of the Year led the Knights to two touchdown drives against UAB, but was replaced by Bortles in the fourth quarter. Godfrey has excelled in moving the offense, as evidenced by his 66.9 percent completion percentage.

But the Knights have struggled at attacking defenses and converting in the red zone. Bortles is more of a pocket passer than Godfrey and has had success throwing the deep ball the past two games. But for now O'Leary has no plans of going away from Godfrey, who helped guide UCF to its finest season in school history last year.

``I am very pleased with Bortles because when we put him in the game he's productive,'' O'Leary said. ``But it's Jeff's team, and I don't think you anoint someone (as the starter) on seven possessions. But I have no problem putting (Bortles) in the game at anytime if I don't see us getting things done correctly.''

O'Leary said he contemplated going with Bortles earlier in the UAB game, but the Blazers controlled the ball much of the third quarter with long drives. Bortles eventually drove the Knights for a touchdown and a field goal - points that put UCF 24-23 before UAB's last-minute field goal.

O'Leary likes how Bortles, an Oviedo native, has stayed ready to play and how he's attacked defenses with longer throws. It's a style that he wants to see from Godfrey.

``What we're missing is what Bortles does and that's get the ball down the field,'' O'Leary said. ``Jeff has to play with a lot more authority as far as when he's running the ball and throwing it. Jeff has done a lot of good things moving the ball, but the key for us compared to last year is that when we had opportunities to make big plays, we made them. This year, that has been a nonfactor. Offensively, we've done a lot of good things, but the name of the game is scoring points. If we were playing better on defense it wouldn't be dramatic a problem. But we have to find a way to put the ball in the end zone.''

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