Oct. 28, 2009
By John Denton
Bruce Miller usually always plays with such a high energy that it takes very little to get the standout defensive end fired up about football.
But seeing ESPN's camera crews and technicians pull up to Bright House Networks Stadium this week put a little extra pep in the step of UCF's most relentless pass rusher.
"When we look out across the practice field and they are wiring the stadium up for a national TV game, it's a really good feeling," Miller admitted. "It just lets us know that the environment will be so fun to play in."
The environment that Miller is referring to, of course, is Sunday night's nationally televised game between UCF (4-3 overall, 2-2 in Conference USA play) and Marshall (5-3, 3-1). UCF needs a victory to keep alive its hopes in the conference race, while Marshall is hoping to win to keep pace with East Carolina (5-3, 4-1).
Miller, a junior and one of UCF's locker room leaders, has stressed to his teammates this week that UCF has to simply focus on the task at hand and not worry so much about the conference race.
"We do need some help from other teams, but we're still fighting for our goals," he said. "The only thing we can control is our schedule and how we play."
How Miller and UCF's defense plays on Sunday will largely depend on how they stop Marshall tailback Darius Marshall, the nation's second-leading rusher at 136 yards per game. He's run for 10 touchdowns and has five 100-yard games to his credit so far this season.
Facing an elite running back is the ultimate test for an elite defense, Miller said. And UCF certainly qualifies as an elite defense considering how it has played against the run this season. UCF ranks 11th in the nation against the run, so the ground game will likely be the predictor of which team wins Sunday night.
"We pride ourselves on our rush defense. We've done a good job stopping the run all season," said Miller, who has 30 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks so far. "Marshall has a big, strong offensive line and a good running back, so it'll be a great challenge for us."
Marshall, the tailback, had a good game against UCF last season, running for 142 on 16 carries. He had a 61-yard run in that game but failed to find the end zone as UCF rolled 30-14.
Some have compared Darius Marshall to former Thundering Herd great Ahmad Bradshaw because of his dynamic cut-back abilities. Miller said the Knights will have to play well on both the inside and outside to contain arguably Conference USA's best back.
"What we have seen is that he finds the hole whether it's front side or back side,"
Miller said. "He's a great cut-back runner, he runs hard and low to the ground and there's good speed when he gets out in the open. Run defense is a lot of wanting to get to the ball, fighting off blocks and making plays. It has so much to do with effort."
Effort is hardly ever a problem for Miller, whom defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable calls ``an absolute bulldog.'' Miller said his effort is the one thing that he can always control and there's no reason he shouldn't always try and play at top speed. That kind of effort and mental toughness has made him the player he is today.
"I don't think I'm as physically gifted as most players at this level are, but I try to use all-out effort to my advantage every play,'' said the 6-foot-2, 253-pound native of Canton, Ga. "That's where my edge comes from. I don't think I'm overlooked, but they have to be prepare for all of us on the defensive line. They just don't focus on me.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail John at email@example.com.