John Denton's Knights Insider: Controlling Their Own Destiny

Oct. 28, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. - After all that it has been through this season - amazing highs, frustrating losing spells and debilitating injuries - UCF still totally controls its destiny as it relates to getting back to the Conference USA title game.

Win out over the course of the next five weeks, and UCF (3-4 overall and 1-2 in C-USA play) will end up back in Texas to likely face either Houston or SMU in the C-USA title game. Despite a couple of heartbreaking losses early in the season and a particularly frustrating defeat last week against UAB, the Knights are still firmly in control of their fate.

UCF head coach George O'Leary made that point abundantly clear to his squad during a spirited team meeting last Sunday night, stressing that the team's first and foremost goal - winning a conference championship - is still totally in its hands. O'Leary likes it better this way, knowing that if his team doesn't win out starting with Saturday's homecoming game against Memphis (2-6 and 1-3), it will have no one to blame but itself.

``I'm not real happy with how we have played, but I'm real positive when I look at the season. We have five games left and when we see who we have left to play, if we do what we're supposed to do, we should reach our goal,'' O'Leary said. ``You can't just keep harping on `what if' things. (Winning) is what we need to do now. We do what we're supposed to do - and all five of these games are ones we have an opportunity to do well in - but we have to go do it and improve upon some things.''

Disappointed over how the season has gone and still reeling from last week's 26-24 loss, sophomore defensive tackle Victor Gray was surprised to learn that UCF still controlled its own destiny. Both Southern Miss and East Carolina, UCF's top competition in the East Division, have already lost games in league play and if the Knights can beat them both later in the season, they will be back in another title game.

``We've talked about that, how we still control our fate. I really didn't know that until we had our team meeting,'' said Gray, UCF's most consistent defensive lineman this season. ``None of our goals are out of sight. So it's up to us to keep working hard and doing whatever we can to get to where we want to go.''

In the short term, where the Knights want to go most is back to the win column. UCF is 3-0 at Bright House Networks Stadium this season, winning those games by a combined score of 108-9. The Knights have yet to win on the road, but their focus is on the fact that they now have consecutive home games with which to attempt to right their season.

UCF has beaten Memphis six consecutive times, a streak that's second only to its seven-game winning streak against Marshall. Also, the Knights are 3-0 at home against Memphis and they know a victory on Saturday would go a long way toward reversing the course of this season.

``The mood has been really up because we realized that we've made some mistakes but we're all still working,'' said senior tailback Ronnie Weaver, who was voted a team captain this week along with linebacker Josh Linam. ``We realize that we can't really change anything from the past. We have to learn from our mistakes and go out now and win a game.''

The Knights will likely try to win this game by playing two quarterbacks. O'Leary reaffirmed his faith in Jeff Godfrey as UCF's starting quarterback, but he also reserved the right to play promising redshirt freshman Blake Bortles. Godfrey, the architect of last season's 11-3 and Liberty Bowl title season, stressed that the Knights' resolve and will to win is still as strong as ever.

``Everybody has put the loss we had against UAB behind us,'' Godfrey said. ``If we can finish the season out winning the East Division, we can go to the conference championship and that's what we are focusing on right now.''

Godfrey has completed 66.9 percent of his passes this season and has been highly effective at moving the offense down the field this season. But the Knights have struggled to score inside the 20-yard line this season because of untimely sacks, errors and ineffectiveness.

The sophomore quarterback, a Miami native, said the Knights have worked much of this past week on staying mentally sharp and making plays in the red zone.

``We're trying to improve on scoring inside the red zone,'' said Godfrey, who has thrown for 1,251 yards and two touchdowns this season. ``That's something we want to do on the offensive side of the ball and put up more points. That is something I am focused on and the offense is focused on.''

And the belief is that the renewed focus combined with a determined push down the stretch will allow the Knights to reach their primary season goal of getting back to the C-USA title game. Even after all that they have been through so far, that goal is still very much within reach.

``It's not the setback, it's how you handle it,'' O'Leary said. ``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.''

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