Notes & Quotes: UCF Football (Week 11)

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)

Nov. 7, 2016 at Bright House Networks Stadium

Availability: HC Scott Frost, DB Drico Johnson, OL Jason Rae, DB Shaquill Griffin

HC Scott Frost

The University of Central Florida is tied with the University of Cincinnati and four other schools in turnover margin (+3).

Ball security is a priority every week. If you’re playing a team that’s good at taking away, we have to be especially focused on it. But turnovers have been a big factor in our games, both ways, and teams that win the turnover battle win. So that’s been a focus for us all year.

Following a 20-3 loss to Brigham Young University, Bearcats head coach Tommy Tuberville responded to a heckling fan, saying, “Go to hell… Get a job.”

When I see anything with coaches—I just heard about it—all I do is feel for the coaches. Our quarterback coach, Mario, says everybody in the world has two jobs: their real job and football coach. That’s what goes along with this job is some pressure, but Tommy’s a good coach, and he’s proven that over a lot of years. Anything I see like that, I just feel for the coaches that have to go through it.

With a win over Cincinnati, the Knights would become bowl eligible after losing every single game last season.

We haven’t talked about bowl eligibility, and we won’t. We’re just focused on this week. I think it’d be great for this program to get back to a bowl game. That’s where we should be as a program is in a bowl game every year. With everything we have to offer at UCF, I think it’s really important for our team, one, these seniors get an opportunity get a little more time to play together and be rewarded for what they’ve done. Bowl games also give you an opportunity to get a lot of young players extra practice, and we have a lot of young players who we’re counting on to contribute this year and going forward. So, that’s definitely something we’d like to accomplish, but we’re not going to focus on it too much.

I’m here to serve the players. I want what’s best for those guys. It’s my job to do everything I can to make them as successful as they can be. I think a bowl game would be a great reward for the work they’ve put in, but I’m not looking at this as far as any personal accomplishments.

The Knights ran three Statue of Liberty plays in Saturday’s 37-6 win over the Tulane Green Wave.

We run plays we think are going to work, and that play, we made three good gains—twice on the liberty and once on the fake. We had those plays dialed up and ready to go before the hurricane hit, and our guys had worked on them a lot. So they executed them really well. And I think right now we have to try to do some things like that to keep people off balance until we’re good enough to knock people off the ball and do some more basic things to try to get eight or nine yards on carries. And we do that at times, just not consistently enough. If we have to throw in some wrinkles to try to get people a little bit, then we’re going to do that.

I think in 2007 or 2008 against Michigan, Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart ran it. I called Chip actually before the first time we were supposed to play Tulane and got the tape from him… Our guys executed it really well, and it worked out well for us.

UCF totaled 297 yards of total offense behind 150 yards passing and 147 yards rushing while possessing the ball for only 20:10.

Believe it or not, I think our offense played as well as we’ve played in a while. Again, we killed a couple drives with a couple high throws, a missed block here. Just one little mistake by one guy here or there. We knew we weren’t going to get many possessions. That was the type of game where it was going to be they ran as much time off the clock as they could and kept the ball on the ground, so it shortened the game. We wanted to be efficient on as many drives as we could. Wish we could’ve finished more of them, but defense picked us up, and there’s a big stretch in the second half where we went even on the field as an offense. A win’s a win. I don’t care if it’s 3-0 or 52-49. I’m excited for our players.

The Knights will host Military Appreciation Day on Saturday against the Bearcats.

I just think any time that we’re able to do anything to tip our cap to the people that make it possible for us to do what we do, it’s an honor to do that. A lot of us have people that we know that have served this country. We have the freedoms that we enjoy because of the sacrifices they made, so it’s a small gesture for us to be able to do something, but anything we can do to recognize those people means a lot to me and this program.

Linebacker Justin McDonald was a captain in the Knights’ 37-6 win over Tulane.

We have a lot of guys that are contributing even when they’re not on the field. J-Mac is one of those guys. He’s done everything right. He’s sacrificed for the team, and he’s been a vocal leader for us. Thought he deserved his chance to be a captain, and he’s done a good job when he’s come on the field. So, want to give all those types of guys chances to be the team leader on Saturdays, and it was J-Mac’s turn.

In the Bearcats’ first five games, they were averaging 25.8 points per game. In their last four games, they’ve averaged 14.

Cincinnati’s a talented team. Sometimes when you get on a roll, things go really well, and it go the other way too. They’ve moved the ball really well, if you look at them statistically. They’re still playing well. It just hasn’t translated into points. I think they’re a dangerous team, given their record. Very talented team on both sides of the ball. We’re going to have our hands full again. This conference is fun to coach and because every game is a battle, and there’s a really narrow margin of difference between winning and losing. And we expect that same thing this week.

The Knights’ defense finished with a school-record three defensive touchdowns in the 37-6 win over Tulane. Though, UCF still allowed 280 yards rushing.

Believe it or not, [defensive coordinator Erik] Chinander wasn’t real happy with how they played Saturday. Didn’t think that they played very well on the first series. Obviously, the offense put them in a bad situation on the first series, but I’m not sure they were quite ready to go in that first series. We have to address that. Chinander is looking for perfection. And he felt like the things that they got that we gave to them because of mistakes, and they definitely broke the game open and won for us, but I think there’s some little details that we can fix, as well. We’re getting better on offense and defense. Defense certainly had its biggest output of the year on Saturday, but I think there’s some things they can fix too.

For most of the games, Chinander coaches from the sideline.

We talked about who was going up on defense. Our entire defensive coaching staff should be commended for the job they’ve done. But I think Erik was gonna go up, and some of the players actually came to him and requested that he be down with them. It helps me a lot as a head coach, too, and as a head-coach play-caller, especially when the defense is on the field, we have to get our next series ready on offense, and his leadership on the sideline enables me to focus more on that side of the ball. I trust those guys on defense to be able to manage the game.

Frost and Chinander coached together at the University of Oregon in the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

I’ve known Erik a long time… He’s one of the smartest coaches I’ve ever been around. His intelligence sets him apart. His work ethic is tremendous, and probably the biggest thing is the way that he’s able to relate to players. I’ve never met a guy that’s plays for him and doesn’t like him and won’t play hard for him. And it doesn’t matter a kid’s background. Everybody seems to gravitate to him. So if you have a high-character person, that intelligence and connect with players, they have a bright future.

Senior quarterback Justin Holman had a touchdown drive in the 37-6 win over Tulane.

Justin, especially the last three or four weeks, I think it’s all come together for him, and he’s looked tremendous in practice. McKenzie [Milton] has done great too. We’re not gonna make a change or rotate, do anything like that. This is McKenzie’s show, but Justin is good enough to play, deserves to play, and if a situation arises where Justin needs to play, we feel great about it.

Those guys have gotten along well, and I appreciate that about both of them. They support each other 100 percent when the other one’s on the field. It was a little bit of an unusual situation for Justin because even though he’s a senior, he was learning the offense basically at the same time as everybody else, so the experience of playing in our offense didn’t really carry over with him from last season. And then his injury was unfortunate. Our plan coming in was to redshirt McKenzie this year and let Justin run the show, and his injury kinda changed our plans. But Justin is a great football player and a great person, and I feel lucky to coach him.

DB Drico Johnson

Johnson was voted the AAC’s Defensive Player of the Week after scoring two defensive touchdowns during a 37-6 rout of Tulane.

It was great, man. Like, us scoring all of those points on defense, we’ve gotta give it up to our coach for putting us in the [right position] in the plays he was calling. But me dancing, that’s just something people don’t know about me. I’m always quiet, but I got a fun side of me.

It’s a great feeling [to win an award], but you gotta remain humble [and] get on to next week, We’ve got Cincinnati this week. We’ll try to get it in again.

Johnson’s second defensive touchdown was an interception he ran back for 86 yards, the fourth-longest return in school history.

We’ve been watching film on them. Lineup formation. Shaquill Griffin had told me, “Hey, Drico. The play, the play.” I had to [time] my jump, and I just had to go. I ran with it, but it felt great.

In 2015, Cincinnati pummeled UCF 52-17 on 726 total yards.

I didn’t learn too much from it. Yeah, they put up a lot of yards last year, but this is a brand new year. It’s a totally different defense, and there’s a lot of different players that weren’t playing.

When asked what kind of messages the offense is spreading to the defensive unit, Johnson said the offense is motivating by having the defense’s back.

They always motivate us. [They] come pat us on our back. Our quarterback would come to us and [say], “Hey, just get us the ball back. We’re gonna put it in the end zone for you.” We’d tell him, “Put it in the end zone. We’re gonna stop you. We’re gonna get you back out there. If you turn the ball over, we’re gonna get it back for them.”

With a win on Saturday afternoon, the Knights will earn their eighth bowl appearance.

We’ve had to remain hungry, but we have been playing bowl games since I’ve been here. It would be a great feeling to go out my senior year in a bowl game [and] spend a couple extra weeks with my teammates before I leave. That’d be great being around [for that]. It’s kinda tough. I wish I could stay four more years and play with my brothers, but it’s coming to an end. Hopefully, God blesses me to keep moving on and stay focused to keep doing what I’m doing.

We’ve been through it all. We’ve been through winning seasons. We went through last year [where] we lost every game. We’ve been around to see how to win, how to lose. We just put it all together now. [We’re] trying to stay focused and win the rest of these games… We can’t get too confident. It’s just a game. You know, things happen. We want to advantage of it and do what we can do to win this game.

The starters on the Knights defense’s secondary are all seniors and redshirt seniors.

Our young guys are pretty good. I think they can step in and start [once we’re gone]. We’ve got Kyle GibsonNevelle Clarke, Tre Neal. They can step in and play a game. We won’t miss a beat with them if Coach starts them. I won’t think twice [of] them.

Shaquem Griffin has gotten national attention since his feature story aired on ESPN College GameDay in Week 8.

It motivates me, man—how strong he is. He’s a great player. He’s probably one of the greatest players I’ve ever been around playing with one hand. He’s so fast and diversified. He can do anything. He was playing safety with me before he moved to outside linebacker, but he’s a great player.

OL Jason Rae

The Knights have 23 seniors and redshirt seniors playing in their final year of college eligibility.

It’s a bit surreal. Time flies. Just the other day, we were freshmen. Eyes wide open; didn’t know what to expect. And it really does fly by.

When asked about the challenges of blocking for true freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton, Rae said the team has reverted back to basics.

Our game plan is very simple. Coach [Greg] Austin has done a really good job with us. [We’re] just trying to stay in front of the defender. This past week, we went back to doing the basic [fundamentals]. In the game, I think we gave up two sacks. But I think for the majority of the game, we held our own.

The Knights are third in the country in defensive touchdowns (four), trailing only Ohio State University (six) and the University of Alabama (nine).

They played an amazing game. They kept us off the field in the second half, literally. It’s awesome knowing that they have our back and we have theirs.

When asked what the point of emphasis has been for offense this week, Rae said it’s been polishing the little things.

I would say just going back to the basics like last week. Doing the little things, working on your first two steps and stuff like that because it’s a big game for us this week.

Milton has started at quarterback in six of nine games for UCF this season as a true freshman.

His leadership in the pocket [has progressed]. When he talks to us, everybody listens. You can see he’s maturing, like any quarterback would. But he’s really taken that role and grasped it.

DB Shaquill Griffin

The Knights’ last bowl appearance was in 2014 in a 34-27 loss to North Carolina State at the St. Petersburg Bowl.

[A bowl game’s] something that we think about, but right now we’re just trying to take it one game at a time. That’s our main focus. We’ve been to multiple bowl games before. I know coming off the season we had, a lot of people would want to see us in a bowl game, of course. But we won’t get there until we focus on… We’re gonna try our best to win this next game, and going forward from there, we’ll try to win the rest of them.

When asked about the intensity of Monday’s practice, Shaquill said there was a collective response from his teammates to not take an off day.

It was a humble type of intensity today. I know playing a game like that a lot of people will feel like, “Oh, okay. We can take the day off doing what we did.” [Instead], I feel like our whole team came to practice. That’s something I feel like we’re growing into. That’s definitely great. We had a really great practice. Today wasn’t just too much of just running, but it was a mental day, and everybody was locked in and ready to learn something new. I feel like that’s gonna carry us a long way if we continue this progress that we’re on.

The Knights tallied six penalties for 68 yards against the University of Houston.

You want to go to a game [giving up] the least amount of penalties as possible. We learn from our mistakes. It’s not like going to a game, mistakes are not going to happen. But they do, you learn from it, and you keep it moving. We talked about it, but it’s not something where we’re gonna chew that one person out or whoever didn’t make the penalty. If you did it, you can’t take it back. You just try to go to the next game and make sure it doesn’t happen again. We just move forward from there.

Erik Chinander is in his first year as the Knights’ defensive coordinator after departing as the University of Oregon’s outside linebackers coach last season.

The word I would use [to describe Coach Chinander] is definitely motivational. The things he says, it keeps you motivated the whole time. He’s never been a coach where he chews a person out. His main thing is we’re gonna keep it family. We’re gonna keep that family type of an environment. His main thing is we’re gonna pick each other up. Someone makes a mistake, it’s not, “Oh, you should’ve done this, or you should’ve done that.” We just keep moving forward. He preaches that every day. We gotta have each other’s backs. That’s one thing that we’ve been working on and got a lot better at. The offense has our back, and the defense is gonna have the offense’s back. That’s something we’re gonna continue to work on, and that’s something he preaches every day.

There’s a lot of things Coach Chinander sees that we don’t. I know what he does differently is he actually listens to what we have to say. [There’re] some things we may see that he may not see because we’re the one that’s actually playing. That makes our defense so much easier to play. If we see a mistake that we can fix, we’ll tell him on the sideline, and it’s easier for him to adjust to it. And it’s a lot easier to have him on the sideline to see things that we may not actually understand. It just makes it easier to play. Once it’s easier, we play faster. That’s something that we need.