Oct. 16, 2009
By John Denton
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This game, maybe more so than any other game on the schedule this season for UCF, is packed with so much meaning. No, there are no conference implications, but this opportunity is potentially as impactful as any the Knights will have.
A defeat of the rebuilt, reborn and ninth-ranked Miami Hurricanes would offer up UCF the kind of signature victory that the program has longed for for years. It would announce to the nation that UCF, the third-largest university in the nation, is a player when it comes to football in the Sunshine State.
``[If] we win this game and it would be one of the biggest moments ever at this school,'' UCF safety/linebacker Derrick Hallman said bluntly.
The game also has tremendous meaning to 29 Knights who grew up in South Florida, many of them rooting for the Hurricanes as kids. Nineteen of those players hail from either Dade or Broward County - the heart of Hurricane country. And nine of those South Florida natives will be on the field as UCF starters Saturday night against Miami. To that group in particular, this game couldn't be more meaningful.
``I grew up there watching them as a fan and they were always a great team,'' said UCF guard Cliff McCray, a Miami native. ``I never thought it would happen, but here it's my senior year and I'll be able to play against `The U.' It's definitely a special game for me. We'll all be ready.''
UCF (3-2 overall) will have to be ready if it is going to take down high-powered Miami (4-1). The `Canes came through one of the toughest starting schedules in the country by beating Florida State, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma, while losing only to Virginia Tech.
UCF coach George O'Leary
has pushed hard for games like Saturday's against Miami because he knows what it does to energize his players and UCF's fan base. But he says just scheduling a tough nonconference slate isn't enough.
``It's an in-state game and it's against the No. 9 team in the country, but it's not about just scheduling these games; it's important that you win `em,'' O'Leary said.
UCF has been winning this season at home, rallying three times for victories at Bright House Networks Stadium. To do that again, UCF will likely have to play better start to finish, avoid mistakes and try and play keep-away with Miami's high-powered offense.
UCF has the ammunition to do that offensively with workhorse running back Brynn Harvey and efficient senior quarterback Brett Hodges. Harvey, a sophomore from Largo, has carried the ball 25 times or more in three games this season, including a whopping 42 times in the win against Memphis two weeks ago. And Hodges is completing 61.6 percent of his passes for 908 yards and six touchdowns.
If Harvey and Hodges are effective behind UCF's stout offensive line, the Knights could limit the exposure of its defense against Miami's explosive offense. The Hurricanes are averaging 29.4 points per game while piling up 390.2 yards per game.
Their unquestioned leader is quarterback Jacory Harris, who played just a handful of snaps against UCF last season, but has been arguably the nation's most improved player this season. Harris has been remarkably calm in the pocket, allowing him to hit several big plays down the field. He's hitting on 62.5 percent of his throws and he's already passed for 1,225 yards and 10 interceptions.
``Growing up with Jacory, we went to camps together and we hung out some last summer. I'm so impressed with how much better he has gotten,'' said UCF wide receiver A.J. Guyton, a Homestead native. ``Jacory is a real calm person and he doesn't get all caught up in the hype. But come Saturday I want to be the one smiling when we meet after the game.''
Miami will be at less than full strength for this game. Starters Randy Phillips (safety) and Eric Moncur (defensive end) aren't expect to play because of injuries. Moncur's leg injury could prove costly to Miami because it is already without defensive linemen Josh Holmes and Marcus Forston and had to dip into its redshirt ranks in last week's win against FAMU.
Bright House Networks Stadium is expected to be sold out for the game, giving the Knights a perfect backdrop to pull off what could go down as the biggest home game in school history. Some will argue that the stadium-opening game against Texas two seasons ago was bigger or the C-USA title game was more significant, but UCF's players are instead focused on the here and now. And they know quite well what a defeat of Miami would do for UCF in Florida and nationally.
``Beating Miami would mean so much to us,'' said offensive tackle Nick Pieschel, a Fort Lauderdale native. ``We're doing pretty good right now at 3-2, but if we had that Miami win on our record it would give us a lot of props around the nation. And it would give us that confidence that we could use for the rest of the season.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail John at email@example.com.