It may not look like it, but a lot is on the line Saturday in Orlando.
WVU (4-3, 2-2 Big 12) looks to avoid a losing streak and a regression back to .500 after a strong 4-1 start.
UCF (3-4, 0-4 Big 12) risks a winless first-half of Big 12 play in its first season of Power-Five football.
“Both teams need a win,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “[UCF is] coming off one of their better performances. I though they played really well in Norman last week against a team that’s probably one of the top four-or-five teams in the country right now.”
All three phases always
After the defense became the heart of WVU’s identity for the first third of the season, the Mountaineers gave up 41 points (Houston) and 48 points (Oklahoma State) in their two games so far in October.
“We [previously] played quality football in all three phases,” Brown said. “We got to get back [to] where we play all three at the same time.”
Luckily, the offense (36.5 points per game in October) is starting to prove explosive at the same time as the defense’s decline. WVU even held fourth quarter leads in both the Houston and Oklahoma State losses.
“We got to continue to put ourselves in positions to win in the fourth quarter, and then you got to close out games. You got to be able to close out games, and that’s what this league comes down to. That’s what it’s going to be like on Saturday, and [that is] what it’s going to be like for the rest of the games we play this year.”
Another homecoming (of sorts)
WVU has 13 players on its roster that hail from Florida, many of which play frequently for the Mountaineers.
Quarterback Garrett Greene, running back CJ Donaldson, wide receiver Traylon Ray, linebacker Jared Bartlett, safety Aubrey Burks, defensive linemen Davoan Hawkins and Corey McIntyre Jr. and more grew up in the Sunshine State.
Greene’s performances (342 all-purpose yards per game last three weeks) have trended upwards since his return from an ankle injury, and a game in front of his friends and family probably supports that trend.
“I know he has a lot of friends and everything down in Florida, and they come up here as much as they can, but yeah,” offensive lineman Doug Nester said. “I’m sure he’s super excited to get down there.
Kickoff temperature is expected to be in the 80s Saturday, but WVU was lucky enough to practice outside this week during a warm front of 70-degree days in Morgantown. Still, Brown is preparing his team for what could be its hottest game all year.
“It’s going to be hot…[I] don’t expect that to be an issue, but we got to prepare for that,” he said.
UCF scouting report
Former national champion with Auburn and 2013 SEC Coach of the Year Gus Malzahn leads UCF into the Big 12 in his third year as head coach. Malzahn is still searching for UCF’s first win in its new conference.
“[There are] couple things you can always count on with [Malzahn’s] teams,” Brown said. “They’re going to be able to run the football, and they play physical defense.”
And run the football they do.
UCF redshirt senior running back RJ Harvey is the No. 7 rusher in the conference in terms of rushing yards (87.4 per game), while his teammate and senior running back Johnny Richardson is first in the conference in yards per carry (7.7).
Defensively, UCF is a bit less consistent. Opponents are rushing for 196.1 yards per game on the Knights’ defense, which is the second most in the conference. On the other hand, that same defense is allowing less than 200 air yards per game.
Brown also noted that UCF’s cornerbacks – led by senior Corey Thornton and junior Brandon Adams – are the best WVU has seen since Week 1 at Penn State.