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Blog Exchage: Knights Notepad

Knights Notepad, headed by Iliana Limón, is the UCF blog run out of the Orlando Sentinel. Before becoming a sports writer at the Sentinel Ms. Limón used to cover the Lobo's for the Albuquerque Tribune. With 7 years of experience covering Mid-Major sports her blog does a great job keeping up with the internals of Knights football.

BR: There were media rumblings that this is George O’Leary's make or break season at Central Florida. After defeating Samford in week one before losing a close game to Southern Miss this past week how is O'Leary looking to the Knight faithful?

KN: A lot of UCF fans are definitely getting anxious and frustrated by the lack of consistent success. UCF has alternated winning and losing seasons during Coach George O’Leary’s tenure. I think a lot of fans had high expectations when O’Leary took over, and they are disappointed because he is 10 games under .500 early in his sixth season at the school.

BR: Having yet to see UCF play this year what can you tell me about the direction the Knights are going in? This is the same program which looked to be establishing themselves before they collapsed last season?

KN: UCF has a strong defensive front line, a veteran linebacker unit and some talented athletes in the secondary. The coaching staff thinks it has the recipe for a truly dominant defense this season, but the Knights have not controlled the first two games this season. The team is putting a heavy emphasis this week on putting pressure on the quarterback, forcing turnovers, stopping opponents on third down and finishing tackles. On the offensive side of the ball, UCF has finally settled on a starting quarterback who seems capable of leading the offense. The Knights have put an emphasis on improving play on the offensive line, cutting down on dropped passes by wide receivers and building up a game plan that favors new starter Brett Hodges. The special teams unit has been a bright spot for the team, with the school ranking third nationally in kickoff return yardage. Last season, UCF had one strong kickoff return specialist. This year, three different players have returned kickoffs for at least 70 yards.

BR: UCF has been nursing a quarterback controversy throughout the spring and summer, Right now Brett Hodges is getting the lions share of the work. Has he been playing well enough to establish himself as the Firm #1 over Calabrese?

KN: Yes, Brett Hodges is the Knights’ starting quarterback and O’Leary has said he is done rotating quarterbacks. Hodges has looked much better under pressure and has been far more effective leading UCF’s offense this season. Nerves seem to have gotten the best of Calabrese, who looked like a strong starter in preseason camp but couldn’t translate those skills on game day. Hodges doesn’t have a rocket arm, but he’s proven so far this season to be a smart and efficient quarterback who will do whatever it takes to keep his team in the game. The only way I see Calabrese getting back in games this season is if Hodges gets hurt or it is a blowout.

BR: Usually the things you take away from a loss, both positive and negative, are more important than the things you take away from a win. What are the Knights taking away from their loss last Week to Southern Mississippi and how can they apply that to the Bulls?

KN: On the defensive side of the ball, UCF is focusing on avoiding giving up so many third-down conversions, cutting down on penalties and reducing yards after the catch. On offense, UCF will look to replicate a strong 18-play scoring drive it had against the Golden Eagles. On that series, the players said things were clicking and everyone was on the same page. They’ll try to do that again when they face the Bulls.

BR: How is your defensive secondary progressing, There were quite a few holes to fill after last season and UB looks to have a pretty potent pass attack developing. Can converted linebackers (Derrick Hallman) and converted quarterback (Reggie Weams), effectively take over at safety?

KN: Southern Miss has a prolific offense, with head coach Larry Fedora running the same spread attack he learned while working as an assistant coach under Urban Meyer at Florida. UCF managed to slow down the Golden Eagles’ attack, although the team fell short of its goal of holding pass-heavy opponents to 20 points or less. Derrick Hallman is a vocal leader and talented quarterback for the secondary, but the rest of the unit is definitely going through some growing pains. Josh Robinson is a true freshman who racked up 10 tackles and contributed pretty good pass coverage against Southern Miss. He is one of several younger players UCF needs to continue stepping up throughout the season. The coaching staff will heavily rotate players in the secondary to help shore up protection, but it’s still very much an area of concern against strong passing teams like Buffalo.