Central Florida offense not all about the run
HUNTINGTON - Let us bust the myth right now, the one where George O'Leary's Central Florida teams like to just line up and pound the ball up the middle on every snap.
Not that the Knights don't enjoy doing that, but . . .
"They pound it 15 percent of the game, 20 percent of the game," said Chris Rippon, Marshall's defensive coordinator.
One in five, one in six plays, that's all. Still, the Knights are not exactly known for "grass basketball" - they haven't averaged 400 total yards a game two consecutive years since 2001-02, in the trash-talkin' Mike Kruczek era.
So what all do these guys do?
"The offense is centered on that [power running]. But the more people you put in the 'box,' the more opportunity they have of getting it out on the perimeter," Rippon said. "They're not a high-tempo, run 100 plays - that's not what [O'Leary] wants. He wants to keep the other team's offense off the field.
"But he's going to be in a two backs, a tight end, two wides; three wides, two backs; three wides, a tight end and a back; four wides; two tight ends, a wide receiver ... he's got every formation group, one tight end, four wide receivers. He's got every formation.
"So everybody says, 'He's pounding, he's pounding.' Yes, he's pounding you to open up everything else, and the second you spread yourself out he comes back and he pounds you, pounds you, pounds you. And they're good at it."
In other words, the Knights are really as diverse on offense as anybody, and Rippon's defense could see it all Saturday night. The teams meet at 8 p.m. Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, in a game with major Conference USA East Division implications.
Charlie Taafe, head coach at The Citadel in another Thundering Herd era, is in his fourth year as O'Leary's offensive coordinator. That's a constant, but the man behind center hasn't been - when Blake Bortles takes the field Saturday, he will be the sixth UCF starting quarterback the Herd as faced in seven years.
In 2010 and 2011, it was Jeff Godfrey, since moved to receiver. In 2009, Brett Hodges; in 2008, Rob Calabrese, still around as a receiver; in 2007, Kyle Israel; and 2006, Steven Moffett.
O'Leary and Taafe, who has coached every offense from wishbone to wildcat, has adapted to all. Bortles has adapted to them, too, and all teammates around him.
A 6-foot-4 sophomore from Oviedo, Fla., Bortles played enough in relief last year to land on the All-Conference USA all-freshman team. Awarded the starting role this season, he is fourth in the league in passing yardage (228.3 per game) and third in pass efficiency (141.9).
Bortles has thrown 147 passes without an interception, 15 shy of a 1999 school record set by Vic Penn. That streak has encompassed four games; UCF has never gone five games in a row without a pick.
"He's got everything," Rippon said of Bortles. "I'm sure George sits in [position meetings] and says, 'This is what I want done, how I want it done,' and this guy does it exactly."
"He has good confidence in himself," said center Jordan Rae. "We all trust him, and on the offensive line we're up there protecting for him. He makes good decisions and he's gotten better throughout the year."
With 32 career starts, Rae leads the usual physical UCF offensive line. The five starters - Rae, guards Theo Goins and Jordan McCray and tackles Torrian Wilson and Justin McCray - have begun all seven games, the first time a UCF line has stayed so intact since 2003.
Bortles' top receiving targets include J.J. Worton (30 catches, 419 yards, two touchdowns), Rannell Hall (19-333, three TDs), Quincy McDuffie (19-231, two TDs) and Godfrey (19-170, one TD). McDuffie may be known better as the school's all-time kick returner, and his 99-yard kickoff return TD sparked a convincing win over East Carolina.
But chances are Latavius Murray (192 rushing yards last week vs. Memphis) will carry the Knights' load, with Storm Johnson and Brynn Harvey spelling him. To show the diversity of formations, UCF lists two H-backs and a fullback, Billy Giovanetti.
"They're just a little bit different with Godfrey not being a quarterback," Rippon said. "They're not in the 'pistol,' the option threat isn't there, but they're getting the ball on the perimeter in other ways.
"The only thing they're missing that they've run in the past - and I'm sure we'll see it - is a little speed option. Just to say, 'Hey, you thought it was gone? No, we have it.'"
Contrary - or complementary, you might say - to its power-running image, the Knights have several ways to advance the ball. Marshall's defense, coming off its best game against Southern Mississippi, has much to consider.
"George has been in a lot of places, and he's been in the NFL," Rippon said. "And this is an NFL offense. This is what you see on Sunday."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.