With half the regular season complete, the UCF Knights (4-2, 2-0) are pleased with what they've accomplished so far. But they know there is more work to be done. The Knights have won both of their conference games to this point and are preparing to play their first road contest in Conference USA play this weekend against the Memphis Tigers.
UCF head coach George O'Leary is hoping by the end of the season the Knights will have another C-USA Championship trophy to display. The Knights have put themselves in a position to accomplish that. UCF currently has a one-game lead in the C-USA East Division and they control their own destiny, with the hope that the destination will be hosting a game on championship weekend in December.
This past weekend, UCF defeated the defending Conference USA Champion Southern Miss Golden Eagles in an intense, double-overtime contest. Senior safety Kemal Ishmael ended the game with his fifth career interception. The Miami native feels the Knights learned a lot about their team on Saturday.
"We found out who our character guys are and who's going to keep pushing," Ishmael said. "We're just grateful for everything. You have to look towards the negatives and fix the negatives because the positives will always be there. We just have to get the little things right so we can be a complete team."
Making those adjustments is what the Knights are hoping will take them to another level. One area where they feel they have made steady progress is on the offensive side of the ball. Sophomore quarterback Blake Bortles has thrown for a career-high in passing yards in five consecutive games.
The Oviedo native has already surpassed many of his offensive numbers from last season. He has completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,476 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"I feel Blake has matured a lot," senior wide receiver Quincy McDuffie said.
Bortles has gotten the ball to many of the Knights' playmakers this season and that's one of the many reasons why UCF is undefeated in Conference USA. Five wideouts have at least 99 yards receiving on the season.
"They can't key in on one person, because we have so many weapons," McDuffie said. "All of us bring something different to the table. We try to put ourselves in positions to make plays and just execute the game plan and go from there."
In the running game, Storm Johnson has improved during each game of his first season of eligibility for the Knights. He's the team's leading rusher with 464 yards and four touchdowns. Last week, he ran for a career-high 94 yards and a score.
"I'm impressed because he's quick and he's shifty," McDuffie said. "I like what he brings to the field. He can make guys miss and he's a very powerful running back. I like the way he plays."
McDuffie speaks to the team's mindset as they prepare for their first road trip since early September.
"Obviously there are things we have to work on, but the talent and everything is there," McDuffie said. "We just have to continue to push and move forward."