UCF offense vs Florida defense

A pair of teams that were picked to win the Eastern Division of their respective conferences will meet in “The Swamp” Saturday, as the Gators continue their journey down the yellow brick road. Last week, they seemingly managed the ballgame for a 34-7 victory over the Golden Eagles. This weekend the UCF Golden Knights will try to pull off the upset of the nation’s seventh ranked team.

Central Florida returns the most experienced offensive line in the nation. The five starters have a combined 98 career starts, two better than Oregon State. Most surprisingly, only one of the Golden Knights starters is a senior. Three others are juniors and one a sophomore.

Center Cedric Gagne-Marcoux has 34 starts the past three seasons. Gagne-Marcoux (6-2 280) was named to the preseason Conference USA team. He was the Golden Knights best offensive lineman in 2005 and doesn’t figure to lose ground.

L.J. Anderson (6-3 280) is starting his second season for the UCF at right guard. The junior is their best pulling guard, who has the speed to get in front. Right tackle Josh Sitton (6-3 305) is the only Golden Knights starting offensive lineman who hails from The Sunshine State. The former Pensacola Catholic star is only a junior who has already started 18 games. Sitton has been a very steady player who doesn’t excel in any one part of his game. He is consistent in most phases.

Junior Kyle Smith (6-2 290) has six starts as a true freshman and thirteen as a sophomore at left guard. Smith is a former high school wrestler who is a very physical presence on the Golden Knights front. Left tackle Patrick Brown (6-5 270) is only a sophomore, but he started every game as a true freshman. In fact, his 12 starts were the most in the country by a true freshman. Brown has good footwork and uses solid technique.

The Gators defensive front did not dominate the Southern Mississippi offensive front. They were very effective despite missing starting noseguard Marcus Thomas and veteran tackle Steven Harris. Both are expected to return this weekend, which should serve to unleash ends Jarvis Moss, Ray McDonald, and Derrick Harvey, not to mention aid in the Gators various blitz packages.

Analysis: The return of Thomas and Harris figures to be just in time to get each player some quality reps before next weekend’s conference opener in Knoxville. The Golden Knights had a 105 yard day running over Villanova. Hardly impressive. By the end of the season, Southern Mississippi’s offensive line will prove to be a very good one. Their 119 yard day was no fluke, despite the absence of Thomas and Harris. Moffett should be forced to pass, which should mean a very busy day for Florida’s defensive ends.

Skills positions

One of the reasons for the Golden Knights optimism is senior quarterback Steven Moffett. He is in his third consecutive season as a starter. Moffett (6-3 210) has over 5,000 passing yards and had a very solid outing last weekend against Villanova when he hit 15-20 for 199 yards and three touchdowns. The former Winter Park graduate has a strong arm and moves well within the pocket and tucking the ball and running for positive yardage when pressured. Moffett completed 59.5% of his passes while tossing 22 touchdown passes and nine interceptions last season.

The Golden Knights return one of the most exciting backs in the country in former Miami Southridge tailback Kevin Smith (6-1 210). The sophomore finished as the nation’s second leading true freshman rusher one year ago with 1,178 yards. Smith averaged 4.3 yards per carry last weekend versus Villanova. He can change direction and possess quickness, but doesn’t have blazing speed. Smith catches the ball well out of the backfield and threw a pass for a score last season.

Senior Mike Walker caught six passes for 77 yards and a pair of touchdowns last Saturday. Walker has outstanding athleticism and runs good routes. He has seen significant action over the past three seasons. Sophomore Willie Thornton (5-10 170) is the Golden Knights top receiving threat. Thornton is yet another Belle Glade native with tremendous speed. He hauled in three passes last weekend for 49 yards and a score. Thornton averaged 16.3 yards per reception.

The Florida defense did not allow Southern Miss quarterback Jeremy Young or Stephen Reaves the luxury of getting comfortable. They combined to complete just 17-37 passes (46%), while throwing three interceptions. Tight end Shawn Nelson was the lone Golden Eagle who was overall effective.

Analysis: O’Leary has added some speed to a group that was pretty darned good athletically. Moffett is probably not going to be rattled by the crowd in “The Swamp”. He has too much experience in some pretty hostile environments. If Walker can generate some success running the football the Golden Knights should keep it somewhat close. The Knights have a talented group featuring nine returning starters. Quality depth is a concern though.

Wrap-up: Unfortunately, this match-up won’t feature a lot of former high school rivals going head-to-head. The Golden Knights offensive line’s ability to block Florida’s experienced and athletic defensive front seven is the key here. I’d go with the Gators on this one.