March 27, 2010
By John Denton
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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Spring is usually a time when pitchers are ahead of hitters in baseball and defenses are ahead of offenses in football. But on Saturday at UCF's practice fields, the Knights offense put on a memorable show and surged ahead of the defense.
Playing before dozens of fans and recruits lining the sidelines, UCF's quickly improving offense got the better of its defense in the first true scrimmage of the spring. Competing for 90 minutes, the offense scored several touchdowns, including a stretch of three consecutive scores during one goal line drill.
Quarterbacks Rob Calabrese and Jeffrey Godfrey were sharp with their throws, sophomore running back Brendan Kelly ran well between the tackles and UCF's offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. It was more than enough to catch the eye of coach George O'Leary.
``That's probably the best the offense has looked in three years as far as moving the ball,'' O'Leary said. ``We were pretty stagnant on defense as far as getting things done. But overall I was pleased.''
Saturday was the fifth practice of the allowable 15 this spring for the Knights, which are coming off an 8-5 season and a trip to the St. Pete Bowl. Big things are expected next season for a UCF team that returns 15 starters and several stars at many positions. A run back to the Conference USA Championship Game is not out of the question for this deep and talented Knights team.
The primary question heading into it, however, was the quarterback position and the development of Calabrese, a junior, and the progress of Godfrey, a true freshman. They have split the repetitions almost equally with both making some impressive plays.
On Saturday, Calabrese had a nifty seam pass to tight end Adama Nissley for a big gainer and a 10-yard slant pass to Jamar Newsome
for a touchdown. Down on the goal line, he found Willie Gaetjens
for a touchdown and he ran in on an option play for another TD.
As for Godfrey, the highly decorated freshman from Miami, he had a dazzling 15-yard scramble on a fourth-and-four play, and twice he got out on bootleg plays for two scores - once on a short pass to fullback Billy Giovanetti and another on a scramble where he dove across the goalline.
``Rob did some good things, he's working the team and moving the chains. That's what you want to see,'' O'Leary said. ``With Godfrey, he's a very poised guy. He's not overly (anxious), but he's not (reserved) like (former UCF quarterback Brett) Hodges, either. He's very poised. He knows his mistake right after he makes it. And you just don't see him making a lot of the same mistakes again.''
Nissley, who hopes to become more active in the passing game this season with his prototypical size (6-6, 262 pounds) at tight end, said UCF's chemistry and cohesion on the offensive side of the ball is better than ever this spring. And he said it's showing in how the offense has moved the ball.
``In the past it's always been that the defense has been ahead of us this time of year. But right now we're really competing and we don't have that attitude that the defense should be ahead of us,'' Nissley said. ``We feel like we should get four or five yards every single run play and catching every ball thrown. It's fun watching the ball being thrown around. We're having fun watching the quarterbacks throw it around and the running backs making plays.''
UCF's offense played well despite being without several top playmakers. O'Leary indefinitely suspended nine players for missing classes, several of which are starters.
O'Leary said the players will return to drills ``when they start doing the things that they are supposed to do.''
UCF's defense was limited to base sets and wasn't allowed to blitz the offense, but had its problems slowing down Kelly on the ground and bottling up young UCF wide receivers Quincy McDuffie and Marquee Williams.
Said McDuffie, UCF's dazzling playmaker who has been one of the Knights most consistent threats throughout the spring: ``We're a confident group right now. We started out the day a little sluggish, but once we got our rhythm, we had more faith and confidence and started making things happen. I think we have a chance to be great this year because we're looking pretty good already.''
UCF's defense did come up big on a fourth-and-one play, stopping the 231-pound Kelly short of the goal line. The result made the Knights offense have to do up-and-downs as punishment, but still the day belonged to the offensive unit.
O'Leary said the Knights will be allowed to blitz and stunt more defensively when the team scrimmages again in a week, and he's anxious to see improvement. As is senior linebacker Derrick Hallman, who took Saturday's disappointing performance personally.
``I'm pretty upset right now. This will stay with me until the next scrimmage and the scrimmage after that and through spring camp,'' Hallman said while shaking his head. ``We haven't had many days like this. We'll do better, I promise you that.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.