July 19, 2012

Opponent Preview: The UCF Knights

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

With the Urban Meyer Era fewer than 50 days aways from kicking off in Columbus, we at Buckeye Grove- with some help from our friends in the Rivals.com network- have decided to take an in-depth look at each of Ohio State's opponents for the 2012 season. Today, we'll be examining the Buckeyes' second opponent of the season: the University of Central Florida Knights. You can see yesterday's preview of the Miami RedHawks by clicking here.

The second game of the season can be a tricky one for any football team. Just ask the 2011 Ohio State squad, who a week after dismantling Akron 42-0 found itself barely escaping the Toledo Rockets at home, with a 27-22 victory.

This season, the second game of the year will bring the University of Central Florida to Columbus, where coach George O'Leary and the Knights will take their best shot at Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.

At quarterback, the Knights return third-year sophomore Blake Bartles, who despite playing behind Jeff Godfrey, threw for 958 yards and six touchdowns. After briefly leaving UCF with the intent of transferring, the athletic Godfrey returns as a wide receiver and potential wildcat quarterback option.

Another wildcard in the Knights' quarterbacking situation is sophomore quarterback Tyler Gabbert, a transfer from Missouri. The younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback and former Missouri star Blaine Gabbert, Tyler is expected to backup Bartles, although he has certainly grabbed the attention of Knights fans around Orlando, Fla.

"People are kind of anxious to see what Gabbert can do, but I don't know if there's really a controversy," Brandon Helwig of UCFSports.com said. "It kind of depends on who you talk to, but everybody pretty much figures that Blake Bartles is the guy, but there's still a lot of questions about Bartles. He's never technically started a game."

Despite an offensive line that only returns two starters from a year ago, Helwig expects the Knights to be able to protect Bartles, especially with the addition of Georgia Tech transfer Phil Smith. Along with Smith, senior center Jordan Rae and left guard Theo Gains add stability to a unit that doesn't possess much experience playing together.

"He's replacing a spot that would have been kind of shaky without him," Helwig said of Smith. "I wouldn't say they're inexperienced, I think that's going to be one of the better units on offense this year. Most of those guys have played."

If there is one position on the offensive line where the Buckeyes could take advantage of UCF, it may be at left tackle, where Torrian Wilson has yet to prove himself at the college level. Meyer and his staff could potentially exploit this weakness by matching defensive end John Simon up with the redshirt sophomore.

For Ohio State, starting two young linebackers in Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant could potentially cause some issues for the Buckeyes due to a UCF run game that tallied 2,025 yards in 2011. Key runners for the Knights this season will include senior Latavius Murray and Miami (Fla.) transfer Storm Johnson.

"UCF's bread and butter, for the most part through the years, has been having a pretty solid running game," Helwig said. "They try to control the game, and you know, control the clock, and grind it out that way. I think everybody's pretty happy with the offensive line."

After UCF went 5-7 in 2011, O'Leary decided to replace his entire defensive staff, putting Jim Fleming in charge as the Knights' defensive coordinator. And while Helwig doesn't expect UCF to stray too far from it's 4-3 base defense approach, he does view that side of the ball as one of the bigger question marks for the Knights.

"I'm not really sure if there's really going to be any major changes in regards to this year's defensive philosophy. They didn't really mix up anything or change anything in spring. I'm kind of curious if anything changes in August," Helwig said. "That's sort of one area where the jury is out. They've got new coaches in here and they're replacing some key players on that side of the ball. You're just kind of hoping some other players step up."

With a front seven that only returns three starters, the Buckeyes' match-up with the Knights could prove to be crucial for the growth of an Ohio State offensive line that doesn't return a single starter to the position that he played a season ago.

After opening the season with a road game at Akron, their week two game against the Buckeyes will be the Knights second consecutive game in the state of Ohio. Despite its opener with the Zips, Helwig said that UCF's match-up with the Buckeyes is what's on the players' minds in Orlando.

"I don't think there's any expectations going into it, win or lose," Helwig said. "I'm sure the players are going to be coached to only talk about Akron, but I'm sure what everybody's been thinking about in this offseason is getting a shot at Ohio State."

The Buckeyes and Knights 12 p.m. kickoff on Sept. 8 will be televised live on the ESPN2.

You can follow Brandon Helwig on Twitter @UCFSports.


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