By KYLE HIGHTOWER, Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ There aren’t many players in UCF’s locker room who remember what it was like the first time the Knights debuted in national polls in 2010.
The second-youngest team in the nation, they had only 13 players– including four senior– who were on the roster when the Knights crept into the rankings only to be promptly ousted the next week following a home conference loss.
But heading into Saturday’s American Athletic Conference home opener against winless Connecticut, the 21st-ranked Knights (5-1, 2-0 AAC) are hoping the best remedy to avoiding another letdown is amnesia.
“We’re not really thinking about the 2010 team,” said offensive lineman Torrian Wilson. “We’re just really trying to focus on this year and not lose that ranking next (week). That’s why we’ve got to come out fighting against UConn and stay focused and not lose that edge that we had the first time we did it.”
UCF coach George O’Leary said he thinks his team’s late-game 24-17 escape at Memphis earlier this month is still fresh enough in their minds that no extra words were necessary this week in practice.
“H and H– Humble and Hungry. That’s what we need to be and that’s where we need to stay,” O’Leary said. “You had a good comeback win against an excellent football team. But it’s a long season…I think we’ve had a trap game already. You don’t get by two trap games. That Memphis game was really one where I thought Memphis deserved the game. We were just fortunate to win.”
If the Huskies (0-6, 0-2) are going to pull the upset, they will have to find a way to score points. They are averaging just 16.3 points per game, which is next-to-last in the league.
Connecticut’s defense, which is allowing 30.7 points per game, also must contend with a Knights offense that is averaging 32.8 points per contest.
“Facing this team is our biggest challenge of the year. It’s my job as a head coach and our job as a coaching staff to motivate this team to play better football and win a game,” Huskies interim coach T.J. Weist said.
UConn has shown specks of cohesion, pushing Michigan to the brink in a 3-point loss last month.
Defensive end Tim Willman said despite their struggles this season, there is still a lot of motivation on their sideline. And unlike the Knights, the Huskies are hoping to duplicate a past performance as the last team to beat Louisville before UCF did it last week.
“Last year, for example we didn’t have a great record, we kept a great attitude though and went into Louisville and won,” he said. “So it just goes to prove that anything can happen and anybody can win on any given day.”
Here are five things to watch when Connecticut plays No. 21 UCF on Saturday:
BREWING STORM: UCF RB Storm Johnson has found his confidence and posted a season-high 188 all-purpose yards against Louisville last week. With teams forced to respect him it could open up more lanes in the passing game.
UCF FORCING FUMBLES: The Knights currently rank fifth in the FBS with nine fumble recoveries this season. In five of the Knights’ previous seasons they did not have five fumble recoveries all year.
KNIGHTS IN 2nd HALF: UCF has scored 108 of its 197 points this season in the second half. The Knights have also been great out of halftime, scoring 66 points in the third quarter.
HUSKIES OFFENSIVE LINE: UConn has struggled in several areas, but one of the most-deficit is on its offensive line, which has allowed 31 sacks this season.
SMALLWOOD LURKING: If the Huskies are going to slow down the Knights’ offense, it will have to be spurred by LB Yawin Smallwood, who ranks second in the AAC with 77 tackles.
Associated Press writer Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford contributed to this report.
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