UCF Football Holds Intense Scrimmage Saturday

March 31, 2012

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By John Denton, Knights Insider

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF went through an intense two-plus hour scrimmage on Saturday, using licensed referees and going full speed in all contact drills with everyone except the quarterbacks.

But the session where head coach George O'Leary might have learned the most about his team and individual players came after the scrimmage in a drill that hardly resembled football at all.

This time of year, O'Leary is as much a talent and willpower evaluator as he is a head football coach. So at the end of the practice, O'Leary brought out a heavy disc with handles on it and had players from their positions square off in tug-of-war battles against their counterparts across the ball. Defensive linemen went against offensive linemen two at a time; wide receivers faced off with defensive backs and so on. The goal: Pull the other guys five yards, and most importantly, keep fighting until the whistle was blown.

``I think you see the kids who will quit right away and the kids who will fight the fight. You can tell the difference,'' O'Leary said. ``It's the most competitive drill that I've seen because all of the kids get behind one another. You can tell real quick the kids who finish and the ones who don't finish. That's what you're trying to get - players to finish the drill no matter how tired you are.''

Before the highly spirited tug-of-war battles, UCF had several eye-opening highlights from the ninth practice of the spring. Six more sessions remain, culminating in the UCF Spring Game Presented by PNC Bank on April 14 at 2 p.m. at Bright House Networks Stadium.

Among the best highlights of the day:
-UCF Athletics Director Todd Stansbury attended the practice session and greeted several Knights fans and boosters throughout the day. Stansbury and O'Leary worked together formerly at Georgia Tech and have a strong relationship.

-Senior wide out Quincy McDuffie ran through an arm tackle and took an end-around play 50 yards for a touchdown.

-Defensive tackle Victor Gray played an inside screen perfectly, dropping receiver Josh Reese for a three-yard loss.

-Senior tailback Latavius Murray continued his stellar spring with the move of the day, juking a cornerback to the ground during a 22-yard run. However, O'Leary later chided Murray for ``dancing too much'' down near the goal line - something that Murray's working to eliminate.

``I'm working on trying to get my pad level down and be more physical as a runner,'' Murray said. ``There's always room for improvement. It's just about me going out there and continuing to work hard and those things should come for me.''

-Ray Shipman, UCF's steadiest linebacker this spring, had a big hit and a forced fumble on a collision with senior tailback Brynn Harvey. Meanwhile, sophomore middle backer Terrance Plummer continues to show up on plays and is becoming an anchor for the defense.

-Electric tailback Storm Johnson, eligible now after transferring from the University of Miami, had an 11-yard touchdown run capped off by running over a defensive back at the 2-yard line.

``Sitting out last year made me focus on what I have to get better doing and I was looking at every practice as a game,'' Johnson said. ``It was hard sitting out, but I had to do it and now I'm ready to go.''

-Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Thomas Niles scooped up a fumble against the third-string offense and rumbled 54 yards for a touchdown that electrified the defensive players.

-Kicker Shawn Moffitt hit field goals of 37 and 50 yards, but missed two others from 47 yards. Sean Galvin, a native of Cork, Ireland, not only drilled field goals from 37, 37 and 47 yards, but the kicks also sailed over the fence and could have been good from 50-plus yards.

``I'm trying to make that (kicking job) a competition and (Galvin) has a great leg,'' O'Leary said. ``I'm trying to make him a punter, but I can't get the rugby out of him. Everything is coming across his body. But that's a position where we need some consistency and we'll continue to work on it.''

And the biggest cheers of the day came when UCF's quartet of kickers and punters outworked some of the defensive backs in the final tug-of-war battle of the day. The kickers got an early jump and then finished off the drill by pulling the DBs across the 5-yard threshold. The offensive players celebrated by mobbing the specialists with a thunderous ovation.

``I liked the kickers too when they won the tug-of-war,'' O'Leary said with a chuckle. ``The reason everybody got all excited because it was the kickers who won.''

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