FIU at UCF

UCF RB Storm Johnson can make a strong early impression against Akron. (Joshua C. Cruey/Orlando Sentinel / September 15, 2012)

Brant Parsons and Matt Murschel make their week 1 picks for the big four Florida teams.

It’s been a long offseason, one filled with camp surprises and depth chart guesses and stories about bleached hair. In two days, though, the wait is finally over. UCF will kick off the season against Akron on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Bright House Networks Stadium.

It’s time for some real, live football.

Last season we would use the days leading up to a game to breakdown some areas and match-ups to watch. We’ll continue that tradition this season. I won’t be able to provide a statistical breakdown today, simply because I think it’s a stretch to include in-depth stats from 2012 teams to compare for a 2013 opener. We know, for example, that UCF’s defense is much different than it was last season. How they fared last year is not the best projection for what will happen this season.

That being said, I think it’s easy to say there are two key areas worth watching a bit more closely if you’re a UCF fan on Thursday night.

Akron QB Kyle Pohl vs. UCF secondary

I wrote about this in depth in today’s dead tree edition of the Sentinel, but here are the basics: Akron will be led by a sophomore quarterback making his first career start. The Knights will be breaking in a new defensive backfield, which includes veteran Brandon Alexander in a new position and several freshmen and redshirt freshmen in the two-deep. Akron threw the ball nearly 50 times a game last season, UCF’s secondary has look susceptible in the preseason. If the Knights can show some growth and progress against the spread, hurry-up offense the Zips run, it could grow some confidence in a unit that needs to get comfortable before conference play opens. Keep a close eye, especially, on the backside of the play. UCF needs to limit the big play.

Players I’ll be watching most closely: Brandon Alexander, Jacoby Glenn, Shaquill Griffin, D.J. Killings.

UCF running back Storm Johnson vs. Akron front seven

Really this is less about what Akron looks like up front and more about what Storm Johnson can do with the duties as the Knights’ starting running back. UCF coach George O’Leary may say this is going to be a rotation, but it’s hard to imagine that Johnson won’t get every chance to prove he’s a big time back. He’s go the size, speed and pedigree to have a breakout season, and Akron is the chance to make a first impression. Johnson needs to make sure he holds on to the ball, and also that he is patient in the runs. If he starts getting out in front of blocks, or dancing and cutting in the backfield trying to reverse fields, O’Leary may start to call Cedric Thompson’s number more often.

For what it’s worth, Akron ranked 109th in the country in rushing defense last season, giving up 211.08 yards per game on the ground. New team or not, those numbers should have any running back licking his chops.   

 

E-mail Paul Tenorio at ptenorio@orlandosentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @OSKnights.