Previewing State's I-A OOC opponents, in order of appearance.
Despite solid production from quarterback Brett Hodges and running back Brynn Harvey, Central Florida's offense was among Conference USA's worst last year in terms of yards per play and yards per game. With the unsettled situations at QB and RB, it wouldn't be surprising to see the offense struggle, at least in the early going. So there may be a heavy burden placed on the defense, which was outstanding against the run but only so-so against the pass in 2009; fortunately for the Knights, this group looks up to the task.
Returning starters: 7
Dearly departed: DT Torrell Troup (selected in 2nd round of 2010 NFL draft), DT Travis Timmons, DE Jarvis Geathers (11 sacks in '09), MLB Cory Hogue (led team with 100 tackles in '09)
Along the line, senior defensive end Bruce Miller is the man to watch. Miller, C-USA's defensive player of the year in 2009, recorded 13 sacks last season and has 27 in his career, the most among active college football players. Miller has a ton of experience and has been a key contributor to the UCF defense since 2007. So we've seen this kid before; in fact, he sacked the quarterback for a safety in our last meeting.
Central Florida will use Miller as creatively as they can, moving him around to give offenses different looks, giving him snaps at defensive tackle here and there. He's liable to make Russell Wilson's life very interesting.
With David Williams and Darius Nall (4 sacks in '09) at the other end and Troy Davis behind Miller, the Knights have plenty of talent and experience. It's at tackle where things get a bit dicey.
Between Miller, Troup, Timmons, and Geathers, it's no wonder the Knights were so good against the run last season. Now that Troup and Timmons, have moved on, the interior is a potentially serious problem. UCF's not going to replace their talents without feeling the burn--it's just a question of degree.
Senior Wes Tunuufi Sauvao is an old man compared to the rest of the two-deep at tackle and will anchor one of the tackle positions. He's got the beef (6-3, 300) if perhaps not the talent to replace Troup. He's also got an interesting career arc, going from DL to OL and finally back to DL.
Behind Sauvao and left tackle is redshirt freshman Victor Gray, who is listed at just 257 pounds and has yet to play a snap in college. At right tackle there's true freshman E.J. Dunston (6-2, 308) and redshirt freshman Brandon Bryant (6-4, 247). Obviously, they haven't played a down of college football either. Giving Miller some time here isn't all about keeping offenses on their toes; they need whatever help at tackle they can get.
They might have gotten some help from Jose Jose, a massive, 340-pound whale of a running back eating manbeast, but Jose (Jose) got himself arrested during the off-season and O'Leary kicked him off the team. Here's an amusing note from that ordeal:
Jose was booked in the Dade County jail at 7:47 a.m. Friday. He posted bond and was released Saturday.
Jose’s mother, who was reached at the family’s home Friday night, said she thought her son was at a friend’s house and was not aware of the arrest.
Surprise! Jose was booked for aggravated assault with a firearm. Don't say Scout didn't warn you, though, Coach O'Leary: they list "nasty streak" among his strengths.
The good news for O'Leary is that he has an experienced group of linebackers to support that green interior line. If senior Chance Henderson has fully recovered from the ACL tear that forced him to miss 2009, Hogue may not be missed as much as one would think. Senior strong-side LB Derrick Hallman started all 13 games and had 85 tackles in 2009. Lawrence Young, another senior, will start on the weak side. He's had 70+ tackles in each of the last two seasons.
The secondary isn't big--none of the starters heading into camp stand above 5-11--but returns intact and seems likely to improve with sophomore cornerback Josh Robinson leading the way. Robinson picked off a half dozen passes and tallied nearly 70 tackles on his way to freshman All-America honors last season. Emery Allen, who is expected to start alongside Robinson, has to prove he's healthy after missing all of 2009.