Notes & Quotes: UCF Football (Week 9)

University of Central Florida football coach Scott Frost speaks to the media during the weekly game-week press conference at Bright House Networks Stadium on Monday, Sept. 5, 2016. (Photo by Victor Tan / New Day Review)

Oct. 24, 2016 at Bright House Networks Stadium

Availability: HC Scott Frost, QB McKenzie Milton, DL Tony Guerad

HC Scott Frost

The University of Central Florida (4-3, 2-1 in American Athletic Conference) jumped over .500 after defeating the University of Connecticut 24-16 Saturday afternoon. After the game, UCF walked off the field without accepting the Civil Conflict trophy, which was left behind on a bench.

That’s the first question? Our focus on this team is every game is the same. We’re going to approach every game the same, and we’re going to treat every game the same. Every game is a rivalry to us. I really believe in college football traditions and rivalries. I think they’re great. To be honest with you, we were so locked into winning that game that a trophy was the last thing on our minds at the end of that game.

The Knights held walk-on tryouts on Oct. 18 inside the Nicholson Fieldhouse.

We just always want to have an eye out for talent on campus that might be able to come out and help us, even if it’s just as a scout-team player. The thing we definitely need is character guys and good students, as well as good athletes. As the season has worn along, and we’ve had some minor injuries, I’m looking for a little more depth here and there. We’re not in need of it, but if there’s somebody out there who can help us, we want to make sure we know who they are.

There’s not a specific number. Again, it’s just we don’t want to overlook anybody that can help us be a better team…We haven’t made any decisions yet. We wanted to be aware of who was out there. Maybe we’ll make some decisions on that this week.

For the second time this season, UCF’s offense was held to under 100 rushing yards.

I think it’s playing two good defenses. If you look at UConn’s rush defense all year, it was kind of frustrating for me going into that game because I watched big runs against them. We have a clip of all the 10-plus yard runs on the season. They only had 13 on the year where they gave up 10 yards on a rush, and 11 of them were from quarterbacks. They do an exceptional job of taking away the run between the tackles. I think we knew we were going to have to throw it well to win that game. Weather cooperated and our players stepped up.

When asked about what made him the proudest coming out of the UConn with a victory, Frost highlighted the team’s character.

Just the character of this team continues to impress me. Last week was hard. It was hard on me. To be that close to winning that game against a really good Temple team and having it taken away right at the end. Our team responded all week in practice, and then going into the game I knew it was going to be a battle. For us to get down the way we did and claw back was great to see for the character of our team. And then to be in another situation that was almost identical to two others we were in, and we had to stop somebody at the end of a game, I felt like our guys played to win the game instead of playing not to lose it on Saturday. This team just continues to impress me with its character.

The University of Houston peaked as high as No. 6 in the Associated Press poll after defeating then-No. 3 University of Oklahoma in their season-opener—its highest ranking since 1990.

I’ve said it for about three weeks in a row now that this league is really even. I’m watching a lot of tape every week, other teams, other games. It seems any week that any team in this league can beat the other if the other team doesn’t play well. There’s close games all across the league. There’s upsets all across the league. I think it’s a really good football league and really balanced. Last Saturday, it was SMU’s day. We expect to have a focused, upset Houston team when we go down there Saturday. They’re still a really, really talented team. We’re going to have our hands full.

Houston has since lost to two unranked teams. The Cougars were defeated 46-40 against Navy on Oct. 8, and Southern Methodist University won 38-16 on Saturday.

It’s hard to relate yourself to Navy. Their offense is just so much different than everyone else’s. They’re really good at what they do. In a lot of cases it’s not that similar. I thought SMU did a really good job schematically. They didn’t do anything crazy. I think their players just made more plays. That’s how football goes on any given night. Football is shaped funny, and it bounces in a different direction every time. SMU played a whale of a game. I thought their players made good plays. They caught a couple breaks and beat them pretty handily. That’s not typical of a Houston team. We know we’re going to get their best shot at their place.

Against UConn, the Knights defense was without senior defensive lineman Jamiyus Pittman. True freshman defensive lineman Trysten Hill also missed time due to injury treatment but would return to action.

I’m just proud of that group. Coach Dawson has done an unbelievable job with that group. Going into this job, that was one of the places that people told us we needed help. Coach Dawson got a lot of players ready to play. We got contributions from Jock Petree, Joey Connors, [Brendon] Hayes, [A.J.] Wooten and Aaron Cochran who was a tight end when we first got here. A lot of those guys contributed. That group right there I’m really proud of for the way they fight.

UCF has won three of four road games and only one of three home games so far.

I think it’s just kind of how it’s happened. We have been really focused when we go to play on the road, which is a good sign. We’ve played really well at times at home. We just were unable to finish a couple games. This team has showed up to play every week since I’ve been here. Perfect example of it is we’re trying to ease back on the players a little bit at this point of the season. We’re going to take the pads off about halfway through practice and finish practice with no pads. The leaders on the defense wouldn’t let the defensive guys take their pads off. Those are the kinds of kids we have leading this team. I’m really happy for them and the success they’ve had this year.

True freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton had his third triple-touchdown performance in four starts in UCF’s win over UConn.

McKenzie keeps getting better. He’s done some really, really good things every game that he’s been in. But he played pretty consistently Saturday. He was really good with his eyes, really good with his feet, got the ball off on time almost every time and made some big plays for us. It’s a fun thing as a playcaller when you design something to work a certain way, and the ball gets there right when it’s supposed to get there and it works. That makes it fun to coach.

When asked whether Frost is calling most of the plays on the sideline compared to quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco and offensive coordinator Troy Walters, Frost said it’s a collaborative effort.

I’m calling the plays, but it’s really a collaborative effort. I’ve been telling those guys I want as much help and input as I can. Saturday, I got a ton of help from Mario and especially Troy. Those guys are in the box. They can see everything. If they suggest a play, I’m going to go with it. Those two guys are really smart and did a whale of a job on Saturday.

True freshman receiver Dredrick Snelson took advantage of an increased role due to sophomore receiver Tristan Payton’s one-week suspension, recording his first-career touchdown on a season-high five catches for 63 yards.

We’ve got a lot of talented freshmen on this team. Dredrick is one… Honestly, the progression here is when you do it consistently and well in practice, then you get your chance on the field. You do it in a game, and everything takes off from there… Lo and behold, it showed up in the game for Dredrick.

Nine different UCF receivers made completions against the Huskies. Redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Akins finished with one touchdown on five catches for 54 yards.

I think any time we get the ball in Jordan Akins’ hands, good things are going to happen for the team. He’s made some really big plays for this team when we’ve needed them. He’s an exceptionally talented kid. Aside from that, we’re going to design some things from time to time for a certain guy, whether it’s Tre’Quan [Smith] or Jordan Akins or whoever. Aside from that, our system takes care of it. The ball is supposed to go to the open guy. We trust all the guys out there on the field to do something with the ball once it comes to them. It was just kind of those guys’ turn. On top of that, they did a good job getting open and catching the ball when it comes to them.

Frost arrived to the UCF campus in December 2015 after serving as the University of Oregon’s offensive coordinator.

I told them after the game and before the game. Think about where they were in January, and then think about where they were in March when we started spring ball and finished spring ball. It’s a different team. I said all along the defense was kind of ahead of the offense as we’ve been progressing here. The defense has really carried this team. Make no mistake about it. [Defensive coordinator Erik] Chinander and his boys and that whole staff and those guys on defense. If we were giving up a bunch of points, these games wouldn’t have been where they were. I told the offense it’s time that they start understanding how good they can be. At times our offense has been as explosive as anybody. We just haven’t been consistent enough. Part of that is believing we can do it all the time. I thought we took a big step forward Saturday. Again, there’s been improvement every week. Seeing the passing game click like that is a big part of what we need going forward. One of these games we’re going to put it all together offensively. Running game, passing game, everything, and explode on somebody.

It’s tough to get players as hard as we ask them to work if they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t honestly know going into the year how quickly we’d be able to accomplish some of our goals and make that work and that improvement turn into wins. We’ve made a lot more progress than maybe I even thought, to the point our record is really good for I think what our expectations were going into the year. Could be even better if we had won a couple close games. This team is a lot of fun to coach because they do everything we ask them to do. They play their tails off. They’re playing for each other. They literally have gotten better every time we’ve taken the field. That’s an exciting group to coach.

In Week 8’s game-week press conference, Frost mentioned that his team must develop horizontal leadership, where multiple leaders hold teammates accountable.

I really saw a lot of player leadership on Saturday. Again, we’re a veteran group on defense. I think those guys have been leading on defense for a while. We’re really young on offense, but I saw Wyatt Miller step up and be a leader on Saturday. McKenzie, Tre’Quan have done a good job. The hardest part about being a leader is holding everybody else accountable to a standard. It’s really easy to be a friend and not tell somebody else when they’re not doing a good enough job. When you have a good team is when somebody steps out of that comfort zone and holds the guy next to them to the standard they expect. I’m starting to see that on both sides of the ball.

[For Milton], it’s hard to be a leader as an 18-year-old. There’s a lot of grown men on this team that are 21, 22 years old, and you come in as an 18-year-old. It’s hard to get on guys when they’re not doing what you expect. That’s going to be a progression. I can’t give enough credit for Justin Holman for the job he’s done in continuing to lead even though he hasn’t been on the field for the past couple weeks. We’re getting good leadership from our quarterback spot and starting to see it from other places as well.

When asked about the highs and lows of the past two weeks, Frost talked about his team’s record.

Coaching is funny. One of my staff told me it’s so binary—win, lose, zero or one. But that’s the game, and we all love the game. Being able to compete and measure yourself as a coach, as a player, as a team, every week. That makes it exciting. If you love competition, you wouldn’t want anything else.

QB McKenzie Milton

When asked about why UCF has fared better on the road midway through the season, Milton said he was unsure.

I don’t know the answer to your question. Hopefully, that will stay the same this week… It’s definitely a good feeling any time you can get a big road win in the American Conference. Definitely, a confidence boost for our ball club.

When asked about whether he could top former Knights alum and Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles‘ career-high numbers of 404 passing yards and four touchdowns (Temple, Nov. 2013) after throwing for 317 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday, Milton said he doesn’t focus on that.

I really don’t try to think about that. I just try to focus on the opponent that we have and just doing my job for the team’s sake.

SMU upset No. 15 Houston for its first win over a ranked team in five years.

SMU came to play, and that was a big win for them. I’m sure Houston is gonna have a chip on their shoulder this week… They play hard. They’ve got a lot of athletes on offense, a lot of athletes on defense. They mix up their schemes pretty well, and they’re a well-coached ball club. I mean, they were ranked in the top 10 for a reason for a good portion of this year. And they’ve been one of the toughest teams in he American Conference for the past couple of years. We’re excited [about] this challenge.

When asked about how he’s responded to being one of UCF’s leaders while still being a true freshman, Milton said it was natural for the position.

Obviously, guys on the offense look up to you to lead, especially if you’re the quarterback. I guess I’ve been a little more vocal throughout practice and stuff like that, correcting guys if they run a wrong route. Just doing what I can. Just doing my job.

DL Tony Guerad

When asked about why UCF has fared better on the road midway through the season, Guerad couldn’t pinpoint any reason why they’re doing better on the road.

I don’t know. We try our best every game. Play hard. Play physical. I really don’t know why we play like that.

Houston senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was sacked seven times by SMU’s defense.

He’s probably one of the best quarterbacks we’re going to face this year. We just gotta try our best to contain him and put some pressure on him. We’re gonna go like that.

Despite allowing 413 total yards, the Knights held UConn to one touchdown and forced four field goals.

Everybody’s gotta step put. We had Jamiyus go out and then Trysten. Wooten came in, he played good. He did his job. Joey stepped in, he played his part. Everybody was playing [well] on the D-line, which we’ve just gotta keep on playing hard.

Houston enters Saturday’s matchup at TDECU Stadium unranked. The fall from No. 15 to unranked after one week is tied for the fifth-largest drop since the AP rankings went to a Top 25 in 1989.

It was crazy. I was shocked. But SMU came out and played hard, so I know they’re gonna wanna come and play their best game against us to make a statement. We gotta come with it.

The Knights have revitalized themselves from a winless 2015 season with four wins under their belt so far this season.

Last year, it was a downfall. We didn’t play that good last year. But this year, we have a chip on our shoulder. It’s a different environment. We’re [happier] playing fast and physical. This year has been fun. I thought we [were] gonna do good this year. It just felt different. When [the new coaching staff] first came in, everybody was ready for the season.