At Central Florida, coach George O'Leary is plenty concerned about Marshall's "fastball" offense and all the mayhem it creates, but he may be more concerned about his defense's performance in general and the run defense in particular.The last two weeks, the Knights have given up 194 and 240 rushing yards in tough wins over Southern Mississippi and Memphis, teams that are a combined 1-13. Southern Miss took UCF (5-2, 3-0 Conference USA) to double overtime, while the Knights used two critical defensive plays to keep Memphis at bay.And now, O'Leary's squad travels to Marshall (3-4, 2-1) to tackle a Marshall team that bears little resemblance to the one that struggled in the Orlando rain a year ago. Kickoff time is 8 p.m. Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.The Knights still lead C-USA in scoring and total defense, but have given up more than 5 yards per carry the last two weeks. Memphis and Southern Miss both had eight runs or 10 or more yards.
"Defensively, I think we're trying to do too much," O'Leary said. "We've got guys that are supposed to be in certain alignments [that] aren't there, and that's why you're having some missed plays or some yardage that we shouldn't be giving up."I just think we're trying to do too much. I've scaled it back this week so we can be in position to do things we have to get done."That entails slowing down one of America's most prolific offenses. The Herd is fourth in total yardage with 568.4 yards, second in passing yards with 390 and eighth in scoring offense at 43.1 points per game. That, and MU is snapping the ball a national-high 91 times a game."In just the one half of the Southern Miss game, there were 44 plays," O'Leary said. "They're running a lot of plays - high tempo, quick tempo. They're no-huddle but I think they're very fastball no-huddle. Some people call it NASCAR, I call it fastball but that's what they are doing."O'Leary, the ninth-year UCF coach with deep defensive roots, is hardly panicking. He emphasizes much the same concepts against any offense, from the most deliberate to what Marshall is running.
"The key to any fast-break team is what I've said the whole season, three-and-outs," O'Leary said. "You've got to get off the field and don't let them sustain drives. You got to tackle well and then you basically got to have some break-ups in the passing game."They have good receivers, the quarterback's playing very well for them, they run three different running backs back there. They're all cutback zone runners so you have to make sure you're gap-sound, gap security as far as the defense is concerned, and we need to tackle well."Other highlights of O'Leary's press conference in Orlando:After Latavius Murray's 192-yard explosion against Memphis, O'Leary emphasized that, yes, he is the man in the backfield. Murray injured his shoulder in the Knights' season opener against Akron and missed three weeks. Then he spent two more games trying to get back to 100 percent, also battling an ankle sprain.
While Miami transfer Storm Johnson and Brynn Harvey picked up the slack, don't expect a three-headed monster similar that what Marshall is using with Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler and Remi Watson."There's no order of running back by committee," O'Leary said. "He is the running back and we have two very capable running backs that can go in and help out whether with injuries or just to give him a blow. That's how I spoke to the offensive staff this week."
With UCF heading to the Big East after its mostly successful stint in Conference USA, O'Leary knows every game is a rivalry game from here on out. He said that is certainly true at Marshall, a place he said he enjoys visiting.
"This will be a major, major game up in Huntington, as far as Marshall's attitude with what's going to take place," he said.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.