John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF's Defense Setting Sights on Tulsa

Oct. 31, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. - Having finally registered a sack for the first time in eight games, UCF defensive end Troy Davis literally started his celebration last Saturday night before the quarterback even hit the ground.

One of the primary reasons that UCF (4-4 overall and 2-2 in Conference USA play) was able to get back on track last week was because of an improved pass rush that tied a season high with three sacks. And undoubtedly rushing the passer will be vitally important on Thursday night if the Knights are going to slow down Tulsa (5-3 and 4-0) and record-setting quarterback G.J. Kinnie.

Davis is hoping that his success in last Saturday's 41-0 defeat of Memphis will lead to big things on Thursday night at Bright House Networks Stadium when the Knights host the Golden Hurricane. The junior defensive end had been stressing for weeks about his lack of sacks this season, and finally dropping a quarterback was a big relief.

``It was pretty stressful getting to the eighth game of the season and me not having any (sacks). Coaches kept telling me to keep rushing and that sacks would come,'' Davis said. ``The coaches told me that sacks would come in bunches once I got that first one. I just had to keep my faith and keep coming after the passer.''

Kinnie, who was an All-C-USA first-team selection last season, recently topped the 9,000-yard total offense plateau and the 8,000-yard passing mark for his career. For the season, he's completing 64.3 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,895 yards and 16 touchdowns. He's also run for another 217 yards and two scores, making him one of the biggest threats the Knights' defense will see this season.

``He's good at a lot of things. He doesn't miss any open people and you can't let him look around. He does a good job avoiding the rush and has good evade-ability,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said. ``I've always liked Kinnie as a quarterback. He's a tough kid and he'll hurt you with his feet. What he does is he dissects defenses very quickly and in past games if you're not controlling the ball, he will wear your defense down with their fast tempo. We have to three-and-out them and make some big plays ourselves.''

UCF's defense has certainly made plenty of big plays this season at Bright House Networks Stadium where they are 4-0. UCF has outscored foes 149-9 at home in large part because the defense has not yielded a touchdown in the on-campus stadium.

``We take a lot of pride in getting sacks, tackles for loss and not giving up points at home,'' UCF junior cornerback Josh Robinson said. ``It's just so big for our team to defend our home field and not lose here.''

Keeping that home winning streak alive likely comes down to disrupting Kinnie's time in the pocket when Tulsa has the football. That means getting great pressure from the likes of ends Darius Nall, Toby Jackson and Davis, while also getting linebackers Jonathan Davis, Troy Gray and Ray Shipman coming hard off the edges.

The Knights have been searching all season for a replacement for Bruce Miller, the all-time sacks leader at UCF who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers. Big things were expected this season from Davis after he had a big sack in the fourth quarter of the Liberty Bowl defeat of Georgia and registered another 5.5 sacks in the Black and Gold Spring Game.

But opposing offenses have counteracted UCF's pass rush this season by getting rid of the football quickly on three-step drops. And at other times, UCF's defensive line has grown frustrated at its inability to get to the quarterback.

The low point came two weeks ago when UAB's Jonathan Perry shredded UCF's defense for 327 passing yards and two TDs in the Blazers' 26-24 upset of the Knights. An emphasis was put on getting to the quarterback against Memphis and Davis and his defensive line mates responded.

``Everybody has been calling out the pass rush and we just felt like we had to come out and play. It's not all on the DBs with teams throwing for a lot of yards. It was on us too,'' Davis said. ``When you get that pressure on the quarterback and you squeeze the pocket it makes it easier to get your hands on the ball or not having to worry about the quarterback coming out. When the quarterback sits back there and has all of the time it's not good for anybody on the defense. We have to keep pressure on the quarterback.''

That's certainly what UCF standout safety Kemal Ishmael wants to see, especially considering the youth in the secondary. Freshman walk-on Chad Alexander, an Orlando native, got his first-ever start last Saturday after A.J. Bouye went down with a season-ending knee injury. Robinson was moved to the boundary corner, while Ishmael and fellow safety Clayton Geathers have had to take on more coverage responsibility. Their hope is that the pass rush will intensify against Tulsa's Kinnie to make their jobs easier in the passing game.

``When you have a good pass rush that makes it way easier for the DBs. We don't have to cover as long and it forces the quarterbacks to make decisions that they don't want to make,'' said Ishmael, UCF's leading tackler with 48 total stops. ``It's very important to get that rush going because Tulsa has a very good run game and pass game. With the quick throws and deep balls that they throw we want them making bad decisions and having to throw it earlier than they want.''

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