UCF focused on limiting Akron air-attack in opener

Published Aug. 28, 2013 2:47 p.m. ET

During last season's 56-14 season-opening win at Akron, there wasn't much that UCF wasn't able to do well against the Zips.

On Thursday night, they meet again to open 2013 with rosters that are mostly intact from a year ago.

The biggest difference is that while the Knights have a second-year starting quarterback in Blake Bortles that is surrounded by an experienced receiving corps and massive expectations, Zips' sophomore Kyle Pohl will be making his first career start.

Still, UCF coach George O'Leary has prepared his young secondary to face another fast-paced air attack that became the calling card in Terry Bowden's first season in Akron. O'Leary said keeping them boxed up is paramount.

''They're going to make some catches, you just gotta be able to make sure there's not hidden yardage in the plays,'' O'Leary said. ''You want to basically get them off in three (downs) and hold on to the ball on them. That's how you handle things.''

Turnovers were a big problem for Bowden's team in 2012 as it stumbled to a 1-11 finish. The Zips turned it over four times against the Knights. That won't change their approach in Year 2, though.

''Hopefully we'll be more balanced, but anytime you line up with three (receivers) or four, you better throw it more than you run because that's what the numbers suggest. They are catchers, not blockers,'' he said. "We have the same mindset with the quarterback and his skills as we did with the quarterback skills from last year.''


Bortles spent part of the preseason resting a bruised throwing hand, but said he's more concerned about what he hasn't seen from the revamped Zips.

''It's a new team, and a new year. So just basing things off last year's film and trying to prepare that way is definitely a challenge,'' Bortles said. ''Then really just the unknown of what's going to happen. But we're getting ready and we're going to be at the best we possibly can.''


Here are five things to watch for in Thursday's game:

AKRON'S NO-HUDDLE ATTACK: The Zips ranked fifth nationally in passing attempts per game last season with 583. But junior running back Jawon Chisholm (953 rushing yards, five touchdowns in 2012) is back, and may be used more to take pressure off a new quarterback.

UCF'S PASS RUSH: The Knights have some fresh faces on the defensive line, but are still hoping to pressure Pohl as much as possible. ''The pass rush is very critical,'' Knights defensive lineman E.J. Dunston said. ''We need to force the quarterback to feel the pressure to help out the secondary. There's going to be a lot of secondary sacks, and there's going to be a lot of just regular sacks. But the key is to pressure the quarterback.''

KNIGHTS' YOUTHFUL SECONDARY: The Knights lost Conference USA defensive player of the year and top tackler Kemal Ishmael, as well and cornerback A.J. Bouye to graduation. Junior Clayton Geathers was second in tackles behind Ishmael and will be called on to keep the Zips' air attack in check.

NEW FACE UNDER CENTER: UCF is expected to start former defensive lineman Joey Grant at center against the Zips. Grant looked good in the spring and is used to reacting fast up front.

LOOKING FOR LEADERS? With only eight seniors on their roster the Knights begin the season with the second-smallest senior class in the country, behind only South Carolina. O'Leary has always preferred to see the seniors take the leadership role, but is hoping to see some third- year players like Bortles and others take the reins as well.


Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower.