Joe Burnett splashed onto the University of Central Florida football scene like no other player in school history. The Eustis native earned Freshman All-American honors from several media groups for his play at cornerback and as a special teams return specialist. He’ll have his hands full this Saturday when the Golden Knights take on the Gators in “The Swamp.”
Overall, the Golden Knights defense do a lot of little things well, but only have a couple of players who stand out above the other starters. Burnett and defensive tackle Keith Shologan are outstanding. Five juniors and five sophomores will team with a lone senior to form a 4-3 defense that is poised to help make the Golden Knights among the best in Conference USA.
Shologan loves to mix it up a bit. The junior is a very aggressive player who has a tremendous motor. That’s exactly what you’d expect from a guy with his background. Shologan (6-2 275) is a four time Canadian National Heavyweight Wrestling champion. He is in his third year as a starter for the Golden Knights.
Lining up on the nose is junior Leger Douzable (6-4 295) who is a first year starter with pretty good quickness and speed. Douzable saw action in each of Central Florida’s games the past two seasons, but only secured one start. He recorded a sack last weekend against Villanova.
Former Cocoa High star Chris Welsh (6-4 240) has been a mainstay on the Golden Knights defense for three years, starting the past two seasons. Welsh is renown for his work ethic and aggressive manner. He shared a sack and a tackle for loss last weekend.
Playing opposite Welsh is first year starter Emeka Okammor (6-0 270) who moved up from defensive tackle where he has spent the past two seasons as a reserve. Obviously, Okammor has enough quickness that the UCF coaching staff felt that he could get the job done. He recorded a couple of tackles and credit for a tackle for loss in his first start.
Sophomore Cory Hogue (6-1 220) led the Golden Knights in tackles against Villanova from his middle linebacker position. As a true freshman, Hogue started six games at weakside linebacker. Moving to the middle is seemingly a great move for Hogue as it is more suited to his strength, which is reading and reacting to the ball.
Another guy who excites the Central Florida staff is strongside linebacker Jordan Richards (6-2 215). The sophomore runs pretty well and has a knack for being around the football. Richards has also earned a reputation for providing a solid lick to the opposing ball carrier.
Junior Randy Dozier (6-2 215) will start at weakside linebacker. Dozier played in all of UCF’s game two seasons ago, but saw little action last year. He had an outstanding game last weekend making nine tackles and recording a tackle for loss. Dozier runs well and provides the Golden Knights with the guy they can bring from the outside when they need additional pressure.
Injuries forced the Gators to shuffle things around on the right side of the offensive line in August. It’s perfectly normal to expect a loss in continuity in the season opener. When you’re adding new faces to the mold before you’ve flipped that first pre-game coin it only serves to compound the problem. But, as the conference opener against Tennessee looms just days down the road, the Gators will be looking to shore everything up this week.
Obviously, the Gators have to find a running game. Nothing fires up an offensive line more than a back that makes them look good by breaking the first tackle and punishing defenses. So, who wants the ball? Wynn? Moore? Williams? James? I know that you’re sick and tired of hearing how much better things should be in week two- so let’s just say they’d better improve.
Analysis: This is a terrific opportunity for Florida to try and build a running game. Central Florida is not your ordinary Directional School U who is only playing this contest for the payday. George O’Leary would love to play Florida every year and not just for the money and recruiting benefit it provides the school. The Golden Knights are a pretty sound front seven and should better help prepare the Gators for SEC play than a directional school from the great white north. The Golden Knights are well coached and really only lack a couple of good recruiting classes away from adding depth. UCF will be knocking on the door of the Top 25 by season’s end.
Cover corner Joe Burnett (5-10 180) earned his stripes with his stellar play last season. He is off to another fine start this season. Last weekend, Burnett broke up a pass and forced a fumble.
Sophomore Johnell Neal (5-10 180) will play the opposite side. Neal is the same size as Burnett, but plays a totally different game. O’Leary has called Neal the hardest hitting member of the Golden Knights defense. He is a very physical player, who won’t be afraid of trying to take a Florida receiver off his route.
The safety positions will be manned by junior Marlon Williams (5-11 205) and sophomore Shar’eef Rashad (6-0 200). Williams spent last season working with the scout team and learning the defense. The free safety played junior college ball at Reedley Junior College in California.
Rashad started as a true freshman two years ago. However, he broke his hand in the season opener against Penn State and received a medical redshirt. He started six games last season for the Golden Knights and entered the spring as the top contender at strong safety.
Quarterback Chris Leak checked in with a solid performance. However, only two Florida receivers caught more than one pass- Dallas Baker with nine receptions for 123 yards and true freshman Percy Harvin with three catches for 33 yards. That probably won’t be the case this Saturday against Central Florida.
Analysis: Keep your eyes on UCF cornerback #19 Joe Burnett. That should represent your top entertainment value. Florida’s experienced receivers (and Percy Harvin) should have little trouble getting separation from this secondary.
Wrap-up: Meyer wanted big plays. He should get them this weekend. The Golden Knights gave up a few to Villanova last weekend and probably saved a few more from going long. Florida is one of the most talented and deepest receiving corps in the country- Villanova is not. I would expect the Gators to put on an offensive show. Demonstrating that there is indeed a running game just in time for the trip to Knoxville. I’m not advocating a throwback to the three yards a cloud of dust days, but one where the backs actually breaks tackles and makes things happen with big gainers. Meanwhile, Leak and company demonstrate they can strike with the big play through the air as well. After a so-so week of practice, the Gators should be fired up for this one.