John Denton's Knights Insider: Challenges of a Short Week

Nov. 1, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. - The challenges of having to play two football games in six days are as much mental as they are physical. UCF is hoping that its experience in those situations earlier in the season will pay off Thursday night against Tulsa.

For a third time this season, UCF (4-4 overall and 2-2 in Conference USA play) will be playing following a short week of preparation when it hosts Tulsa (5-3 and 4-0) at Bright House Networks Stadium. By now, the Knights are well aware of the extra work it takes to jam a week's worth of preparation and recovery time into four days. And they are hoping that their experience in those situations will result in a key victory.

``It does help having gone through this before, especially with our seniors who have been through this several times,'' UCF senior right tackle Nick Pieschel said. ``The younger guys didn't know what to expect those first couple of times when we had shorter weeks, but it's about preparation. It's really important to have good practices and watch extra film to make sure you are ready for the game.''

UCF will need to be ready against a Tulsa team that has played one of the most difficult schedules in the country and is currently on a four-game winning streak. The Golden Hurricane lost to three of the top six teams in the BCS - No. 3 Oklahoma State (59-33), No. 5 Boise State (41-21) and No. 6 Oklahoma (47-14) - but they have rebounded with four impressive wins. Tulsa most recently routed SMU, a team that beat UCF two weeks ago in Dallas.

The Knights have been preparing at a breakneck speed for a Tulsa team that features record-setting quarterback G.J. Kinne, who recently topped the 9,000-yard total offense and 8,000-yard passing plateaus. The senior quarterback is second in Conference USA in passing efficiency (147.7) and fifth in yards per game (236.9).

UCF safety Kemal Ishmael, whose defense has yet to surrender a touchdown at home all season, said the Knights have been spending extra time in the film room this week trying to prepare for a Tulsa spread offense that features a variety of formations and routes.

``Matching up to their formations can be tough,'' said Ishmael, UCF's leading tackler so far this season. ``After playing them over a while, we've known them as a gadget team that lines up in funky formations to try and throw the defense off. Just lining up to what they do and getting everybody in the right position is the big thing.''

As it relates to preparation on a short week, UCF head coach George O'Leary said there's a need to try and do things at double speed. Not only does playing on a Thursday night mess up the usual routine of the week, but it also forces some major adjusting to the calendar.

``We meet on Sunday, and Monday is like a Monday-Tuesday practice, Tuesday is a Tuesday-Wednesday and Wednesday is a Thursday practice. Everybody understand that?'' O'Leary said with a big smile.

O'Leary stresses to his team that when it is playing on a short week that players have to take it upon themselves to do some of the mental preparation for the upcoming game. O'Leary encourages players to watch additional game footage and get extra medical treatment sessions so that they are ready to go earlier in the week.

And O'Leary also coaches his assistant coaches, instructing them to keep game plans simpler so not to overload players who have just four days to get over one game and get ready for another dead ahead.

``The big thing as coaches that you have to go back to your fundamentals. Anytime you have a short week it's more mental than physical as far as on the field,'' O'Leary said. ``You're trying to condense four practices in two days, so you have to limit what you are doing. I tell the coaches that it's more important what the kids know than what they know. So you have to consider that when you are making the game plans.''

UCF's previous two short weeks came when they also had to travel to road games in Provo, Utah, and Birmingham, Ala. This time, at least, the Knights will be at home and won't have to sacrifice half of a day travelling to another city. Their experience getting ready for mid-week games should come in quite handy come Thursday night, center Jordan Rae said.

``The experience it helps a lot. The first time around playing on a short week, especially for the younger guys, it was harder to be focused,'' Rae said. ``But this time around I think everyone will be on their Ps and Qs and be ready for Tulsa.''

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