Three things we learned from UCF football’s spring game – Orlando Sentinel
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It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life and football fans were feeling mighty good at UCF football’s spring game that saw a record-setting 23,147 fans.
But before we get to the football analysis, it’s important to take a moment to recognize the school’s new marketing baby called “UCFastival.” The school created a day of family-friendly events to generate higher attendance for the football and baseball games.
There was a VIP tent – which sold out of its $55 tickets for free drinks, food and an intimate serenade from Vertical Horizon artist Matt Scannell. There was a zipline, motorcross cyclists flying in the air and concerts to name a few of the activities. The only thing missing was the dancing elephants — which you couldn’t put past first year athletic director Danny White to add to next year’s fastival.
The production leading up to UCF’s Black and Gold game seemed to be a triumph and the buzz carried over to the game, where an estimated 115 former players attended including Brandon Marshall, Bruce Miller and Latavius Murray.
And that’s where we land back to the real show of Scott Frost’s new “fast and furious” UCF football team.
In short, judging a spring game is like conducting a cake-tasting without actually eating the cake. You can see the structure, but you’re clueless about the flavor.
That UCF split into two teams by a coach-led draft only made getting a sense of the chemistry even more difficult as players who’d been practicing with the No. 1 units were mix and matched on different teams. Who knows, maybe the masking was intentional?
Even still, there were some interesting notes to be shared from the big day. Here are the most three important things we learned from UCF’s Black and Gold game.
Justin Holman will run the offense
Holman didn’t have the biggest moments of the night — that belonged to Garrett Kruczek and Tyler Harris. But what the senior did have was consistency, presence and experience.
In an entirely new offense that players had exactly 14 practices to operate, perhaps the best measurement is the number of completions and interceptions. Holman completed 10 of 15 passes for 127 yards – nailing his last five consecutive passes where he also hit sophomore D’erren Wilson for a 19-yarder. Most important, Holman didn’t throw the ball away with interceptions.
He also showed some foot speed with a few big scrambles to push the chains forward. And both of the Gold team’s rushing touchdowns were set up under Holman’s direction. Holman hit Tre’Quan Smith with a 42-yard pass that could have set up more points in the board early in the game had kicker Matt Wright not slipped on the field goal attempt.
Finally, it’s important to remember Holman wasn’t working with his complete No. 1 o-line that he’d been developing chemistry with during the spring. Holman did have left tackle Aaron Evans and right guard Chavis Dickey.
All of this isn’t to say Holman is a finished product and that he can’t be challenged for the lead. All spring, coaches have mentioned just two quarterbacks by name as leaders in Holman and fellow senior Nick Patti, who again showed off his running and scrambling skills Saturday night. Kruczek also showed some promise with his quick release and soft touch highlighted by a 37-yard connection to tight end Cal Bloom. And, there is the matter of McKenzie Milton coming to campus in the summer with a lot of hype and experience running the Oregon-style offense.
But if the season were to start tomorrow, Holman would be in the best position to lead based on what we saw in the spring game.
Ultimately, the Gold team beat the Black team 21-10.
Defense is solid
Traditionally, defenses always shine more when a new offense is being installed. And yes, defensive players accounted for 11 sacks but, for context sake, players could only tackle quarterbacks with tags which likely inflated that number.
Even still, there was a lot for UCF fans to be hopeful about concerning the improvements on defense under first year defensive coordinator Erik Chinander.
They were fast and aggressive. Equally impressive, the defensive backs didn’t give up a lot of big plays. Shaquill Griffin would have recorded the first interception of the night but had to settle for a pass breakup after dropping the ball. Blake Tiralosi and Jeremy Boykins had the other two interceptions for the night.
Junior defensive lineman Jamiyus Pittman got a piece of the sack action as he jumped on Holman early. Pittman has been one of the defensive stars since he arrived at UCF two years ago and he doesn’t plan on giving up his starting spot even with three junior college transfer defensive linemen coming in the summer.
Last year, UCF ranked No. 113 in total defense. It’s too early to tell if the Knights can get back to the top 20 type defenses it had become known for in the past 10 years, but there’s no question there will be much improvement.
Running backs have depth
This is a curious group to critique right now namely because there isn’t a single breakout star to emerge just yet.
C.J. Jones showed he could be the power back UCF needs when he rushed for than 50 yards during a single drive resulting in an 8-yard rushing touchdown drive for the Gold Team in the second quarter.
Taj McGowan, Dontravious Wilson and walk-on Kenneth Williams also showed they could push the ball up the middle. There wasn’t as much movement on the edges, but overall the running backs appeared stable.
Frost said he wants to go faster and a lot of this will depend upon the speed the running backs can offer. There’s no question UCF’s incoming freshmen from Mainland and Dr. Phillips Adrian Killins and Jawon Hamilton have a shot to leave an impact here.
The biggest takeaway from this group is that there should be a lot of options and depth to run the ball — a positive sign for a new offense.