UCF head coach George O'Leary, wide receiver Jordan Franks and defense lineman Jamiyus Pittman talk about the Knights' loss to Tulane and their upcoming game against UConn. Video by Jarrod Heil, Central Florida Future
UCF’s loss in its first conference game puts a slight damper on a third consecutive American Athletic Conference championship, making it a bit more difficult to attain.
But UCF (0-5, 0-1 in AAC) will have an opportunity to turn it around against when it hosts UConn (2-3, 0-1 in AAC) Saturday at 3:45 p.m.
In the third matchup between the two teams, UCF enters having outscored UConn 91-54. Both teams have each won one game.
The injury-riddled Knights have had to call on unlikely names this season. With injuries at the center, quarterback, running back and wide receiver positions, they have had to rely on underclassmen and walk-ons.
“We’re just running down to people right now that we have to put in that you would have liked to have sat this year,” head coach George O’Leary said. “[It’s a] ‘I need you now’ type of thing.”
Through five games, 40 different players have started, including 22 on offense and 18 defense. Twenty-six of those have made their first collegiate start.
That includes sophomore defensive-back-turned-wide-receiver Jordan Franks, who had 93 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions in the 45-31 loss at Tulane.
“Like any other position I play, I just go all out,” Franks said. “[I] give the team what I have, try to make plays, and whatever turns out, turns out.”
UCF’s young players are earning early experience and show promise for the future, though.
In last weekend’s game, all three wide receivers from the 2015 signing class saw playing time.
D’erren Wilson reeled in 114 yards and three touchdowns on seven receptions, Cam Stewart brought in 16 yards on three catches and Tristan Payton returned a kickoff for 21 yards before being injured.
“I wouldn’t know about age, but we’ve matured a lot,” Franks said. “We know that we have a young team, and we just have to be more mature than what we’re expected to be.”
Defensively, the Knights have seen most of their struggles in the second half. When it comes to points through their first five games, they have given up 52 and scored 50 in the first half and given up 86 and scored 31 in the second half. Twenty-one of their points scored in the second half were against Tulane’s second string.
Domenic Spencer entered the year with 11 career total tackles in three seasons. He currently leads the team with 33 this season.
“We still have faith,” Spencer said. “We’re going to go down swinging, we’re not cowering out, we’re not going to chicken out, we’re going to keep playing UCF football and I still have all the faith in the world in my guys.
“We’re going to turn this around.”
Victor Ng is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @_victorT24.