UCF looking for revenge this week against FIU
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- If Central Florida coach George O'Leary had his way, none of his players would have even thought about last year's matchup with Florida International this week.
If he had his way, there would be no reminders of how the Knights' highly touted offensive line was outmuscled by a Panthers defense that produced six sacks. Or how a handful of other plays eventually lifted FIU to a surprise 17-10 win.
"I think all losses should sting. I remember every one of them in 44 years. Name the game and I can tell you what happened," O'Leary said. "I think it's the old saying that `every time you lose, you die a little' and it's true.
"Last year was a game that we did nothing offensively. Defensively we did enough to win the game, but you can't give up six sacks. ... We didn't play well on special teams either. We get another opportunity this Saturday to face them and we are working hard to get things right."
There's no question that last year's loss had an effect on both teams.
After a 2-0 start the Knights lost three of their next four games en route to a dismal 5-7 season. Meanwhile, the win was the Panthers' third straight and catapulted them to program-best 8-5 finish and second consecutive bowl berth.
While last year's win over the Knights turned a few heads, it came a week after FIU upset Louisville. Now with wins like fellow Sun Belt Conference member Louisiana-Monroe's victory at Arkansas last week, FIU coach Mario Cristobal hopes people are taking notice.
"There's always gonna be work to be done, but these wins re happening every year now," he said. "I think it's a tribute to these programs and these coaches, and most importantly these players that are getting it done."
Coming off another early season setback to Ohio State last week, UCF senior receiver Quincy McDuffie said it's nearly impossible for the Knights (1-1) not to be looking for a little redemption on multiple fronts this week against FIU (1-1)
"I mean, leading up to the game we prepared hard and all that. Then as the game went on, I think we lost track of focus and what was the goal and what we needed to get done," McDuffie said. "So this is a new year and a new season. We're treating this just like the next game, and we're just gonna put forth our best effort."
UCF will again be short-handed offensively, with senior running back Latavius Murray missing his second straight game with a bruised shoulder. With a bye week next week, O'Leary hopes Murray will be back in time for the Knights' home matchup with Missouri Sept. 29.
O'Leary has reason to be confident that he'll get production, though, in top backup Storm Johnson and Brynn Harvey. Both were slowed last week by Ohio State's big front line, but Johnson (two touchdowns this season) has shown his elusiveness and ability to break long runs.
The coach also gives quarterback Blake Bortles a passing grade so far. The redshirt sophomore has thrown for five touchdowns in just 57 passing attempts. The only marks against him so far are his four interceptions, the majority of which came because of hasty decisions in the pocket when under pressure.
FIU lost two key skill position players on offense with the departures of explosive senior receiver T.Y. Hilton and quarterback Wesley Carroll. But the Panthers return eight starters on offense and 10 on a defense that ranked 14th in points allowed last season.
That defensive mark has taken a beaten in their first two outings after giving up 46 in a season-opening loss to Duke and 38 in an overtime win over Akron.
"When we're playing good, we're playing good," Cristobal said. "But we can certainly tighten up on some things from a coverage standpoint and create better angles for ourselves and play the ball better. A lot of times when opportunity's in our hands, we gotta capitalize...We gotta our team off the field."
But FIU's core defense is worthy of respect, said UCF receiver Jeff Godfrey, who as quarterback last year was the beneficiary of the Panthers' sacks.
Godfrey had a fumble late in the first half of that game that was returned for a touchdown.
"I take full responsibility for last year," Godfrey said. "I made some bone headed plays last year, but I plan to do a good job this year not making those and it's gonna be a good game. I'm glad for the opportunity."
Saturday also kicks off a string of four straight home games for the Knights and O'Leary said he's confident his team will benefit from playing in front of its home crowd for the first time in 2012.
"I think there's a mature group of kids we have. I lean on the senior class to make sure they understand every game is a big game," he said. "The fan base understands that better than they have in the past. Once Ohio State was over it's over. When Akron was over it's over. Everything right now is FIU and what we need to do to win."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)