John Denton's Knights Insider: Protecting Their House

Oct. 26, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. - Downright dominant and 3-0 at Bright House Networks Stadium but shockingly winless on the road this season, homecoming couldn't be coming at a better time for UCF's football team.

The Knights (3-4 overall and 1-2 in Conference USA play) are hoping to use Saturday's 4 p.m. game against Memphis (2-6 and 1-3) to snap a two-game losing streak and get back on track for the season. The game against the Tigers, followed by another home game against Tulsa next week, gives UCF hope that it can right the season and start a stirring closing kick that will result in it being back in the C-USA title game.

That's just how confident the Knights are about playing in Bright House Networks Stadium, a place where they have outscored foes 108-9 this season. UCF is used to being dominant at home, and they are relying on that homefield advantage to reverse the course of this season.

``It's never been like this since I've been here because we've always been a solid road team. I don't know if it's inexperience on the road or what,'' said senior middle linebacker Josh Linam, who was voted one of the team captains this week along with tailback Ronnie Weaver. ``But we've been doing well at home all season and we're ready to use these two games to get ourselves back on track.''

UCF opened the season by thumping Charleston Southern (62-0) and routing Boston College (30-3) at Bright House Networks Stadium. That bubbling optimism was tempered a bit when the Knights lost heartbreaking road games at FIU and BYU. Following an open date, UCF finally returned home where it whipped Marshall in a torrential rain storm.

But the road woes returned the following two weeks with losses coming at SMU and UAB. Having difficulty on the road was particularly shocking to a Knights team that was 5-1 away from home last season, including a defeat of Georgia in the Liberty Bowl. Now, the Knights are looking to Saturday's homecoming game and the fact that they will be playing three of the last five games at home as a means of finding some sustained success.

``We've had a couple of road games in a row away and it is difficult playing away. That's something you have to learn to do. As a senior and a fifth-year guy I feel like I know what it takes to win on the road. But there are some younger guys who have had a hard time dealing with it,'' senior tight end Adam Nissley said. ``But now that we have a couple of home games, we definitely want to take advantage of that. We always do well at home and we want to keep that going.''

There's a lot of truth to what Nissley said about the Knights' success at home. In the five-year history of Bright House Networks Stadium, the Knights are 21-8. Three of the previous four seasons have seen UCF win at least five games at its dazzling on-campus facility. And the Knights have never lost to Memphis in Orlando, winning all three meetings.

``What has happened so far this season is behind us and we want to knock out these next two games at home and get on a roll,'' redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Victor Gray said. ``Hopefully these home games will be an awakening for a lot of us. We really need these games.''

UCF head coach George O'Leary doesn't dispute that UCF has a distinct homefield advantage, but he said the lack of success on the road this season basically comes down to untimely errors and not making enough plays in those games. He pointed out that UCF losing 19 seniors off last season's team and being replaced by a large contingent of young players and junior college transfers could be one reason behind the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of UCF's season.

``When you look at the football team we travel 66 players and one-third of them are new, being either freshmen or transfers and they don't have a real idea what's going on. The other two-thirds have travelled with us and I think the upperclassmen need to say, `This is how we do things at UCF,''' said O'Leary, whose team held late leads at FIU, BYU and UAB only to lose. ``But I don't think playing away has anything to do with why we lost the last game or why we didn't play well at SMU. We just basically didn't get the job done or make plays. But I tell the kids that they are in this together and football is the ultimate team game. They can't be finger-pointing at the offense or the defense. Young kids sometimes have trouble understanding that and it's sometimes a teaching lesson you have to do with them.''

Before the season, O'Leary talked to the fanbase about the need for fans to be loud and in their seats prior to kickoff. And he had numbers to back up his pleas as UCF entered the season 27-4 when leading after the first quarter since 2006. Conversely, the Knights were just 7-20 when trailing after one quarter during that same timeframe. This season, UCF is 3-2 when leading after one period.

Nissley, a fifth-year senior, said that fans can have a bigger impact on games that they sometimes realize. With UCF's student body positioned right above the Knights' locker room in Bright House Networks Stadium, their noise and energy go a long way in firing up the team just before it hits the field. Nissley is hoping for a large crowd for what will be his final homecoming game, one he fully expects the Knights to win.

``When we have a big fan following at home, it just gives us more confidence and we feed off their energy,'' he said. ``The message from me is that we need everybody to come out this week and be loud.''

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