UCF Football Preview: Knights Face FIU in Final Game Before Conference Play

University of Central Florida wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith catches a high ball during a 30-24 double-overtime loss to the University of Maryland at Bright House Networks Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. (Photo by Christopher Bobo / New Day Review)

Coming off consecutive losses to Big Ten schools, the University of Central Florida (1-2) enters the weekend with a chance to boost their confidence and reclaim bragging rights over Florida International University (0-3) before conference play begins next week.

The Knights are traveling down south for an in-state matchup after falling to the University of Maryland in a 30-24 double-overtime battle last weekend.

The Panthers, who were routed 41-14 by the Terrapins in Week 2, seem like an opponent the Knights might have an edge over. However, don’t expect UCF to take FIU lightly, considering the Panthers got the best of the Knights at home last season, blocking a potential game-winning field goal in the final seconds that initiated a winless campaign.

“I remember the loss at the end on the blocked field goal; very heartbreaking,” sophomore wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith said. “The great thing about football [is] you can’t look back, only forward. We got a chance to redeem ourselves Saturday, and hopefully we do so.”

True freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton will make his second career start after he finished his college debut with 260 yards passing and two touchdowns on 21-for-36 passing while adding a rushing touchdown against the Terrapins.

But UCF head coach Scott Frost hopes to see Milton reverse his mistakes—six fumbles (three lost) and an interception—with the most crucial of them coming in the form of a lost fumble on the Knights’ last drive in the second over time.

“McKenzie can turn lemons into lemonade really quick,” Frost said. “We’ve seen him do it all fall camp. Actually you guys haven’t seen anything yet. Some of the stuff he’s pulled off in fall camp was amazing. But again, now he has to learn to dial that in. We want to take the wild out of him without taking the playmaker ability out of him.”

The Knights offense racked up 455 yards against Maryland, recording big yardage from their rushing unit (195 yards). True freshman Adrian Killins helped with a 43-yard burst that set up Milton’s first career touchdown.

“We had almost 500 yards of total offense. Anytime you have close to 500 you should score 40 points. But we had turnovers, we had penalties,” UCF offensive coordinator Troy Walters said.

Killins is currently averaging 15.5 yards per carry on 10 total rushing attempts, and Walters is taking notice.

“I don’t want to show our hand, but he definitely needs to touch the ball… I’m not going to put it out to the country and FIU, but he’s definitely going to touch the ball more,” he said.

FIU enters this matchup looking to rebound from their 21-13 loss to the University of Massachusetts Minutemen, who finished close to last in national polls last season.

The Panthers, who haven’t boasted a winning season since 2011, allowed UMass to convert 7-of-16 third downs for 394 yards while posting 315 yards of their own. The Knights’ defense, which recorded five sacks against Maryland—four in the first half—held the Terrapins offense to 373 yards.

As for the other side of the ball, UCF is aware of FIU’s defense, which is similar in scheme.

“They’re very similar to our defense in terms of their style and structure. They’ll give you multiple looks, three down, four down. The one thing that jumps out on film is they play hard, no matter what. We know they’re going to be hungry,” Walter said.

On offense, the Panthers are only averaging 13.3 points per game, led by true freshman running back Alex Gardner, who’s totaled 262 rushing yards and three touchdowns through three games.

“I don’t think it’s going to be hard to motivate these guys ever. The effort they’ve been giving me week in and week out, it’s been unbelievable,” Frost said. “These guys are fighters. I don’t think we need any added motivation for any game. We’re just waiting for that big win to get a bunch of confidence and get it rolling.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday at Ocean Bank Field and will be broadcast on BeIN Sports.