BYU’s offense preparing for a ‘track meet’ in Boca Raton Bowl, but says UCF’s defense is underrated
Tuesday’s 5 p.m. MST showdown at FAU Stadium on ESPN will pit the No. 14 Cougars’ high-powered offense against a UCF defense ranked 117th in the country, but looks can be deceiving
BOCA RATON, Florida — Don’t believe the numbers. Looks can be deceiving. Things aren’t always as they appear.
Those are the messages BYU offensive coaches Jeff Grimes, Aaron Roderick, Fesi Sitake, Steve Clark and Harvey Unga have delivered to the Cougars this week as they have dissected UCF’s defense before the Boca Raton Bowl.
“They’ve stressed that this is a really good defense we are facing, and we believe them,” BYU quarterback Zach Wilson said. “You can see it on film; They’re fast and aggressive and they can make plays.”
Unranked UCF (6-3) and 10-1 BYU, ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 17 in the College Football Playoff rankings, square off Tuesday on ESPN in what is expected to be a shootout at FAU Stadium, 193 miles from UCF’s campus and 2,500 from BYU’s.
Bowl officials announced Saturday that all 6,000 tickets that were available “ran out quickly” and no more can be purchased.
Due to pandemic protocols, the maximum allowable seats within FAU Stadium had already been decreased to 6,000 and those available tickets ran out quickly.— RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl (@BocaBowl) December 19, 2020
Fans can still catch the game at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday, December 22 on ESPN. #RCBRB #ESPN #BowlSeason pic.twitter.com/rg1Wjh2WqF
A four-point favorite, BYU will “need to score a lot of points to win this game,” head coach Kalani Sitake said Monday. Members of his coaching staff are aware of that, but say it won’t be that easy.
Led by Wilson, a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate, the Cougars are averaging 510.1 yards and 43.0 points per game, ninth and eighth best in the nation.
“So I think some of their stats are a little bit deceptive, because of how many snaps they defend. It is not wise to look at the point totals they give up, or the yards they give up. … Their games are track meets.” — BYU passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick.
UCF is a woeful 117th in total defense (473.7 yards per game) and No. 80 in scoring defense, allowing 31.4 points per game.
Looks like a total mismatch, right?
Not so fast, says Roderick, the man most responsible for turning Wilson into one of the country’s top quarterbacks this season and a probable NFL first-round draft pick if the junior leaves school early.
Wilson said Friday he will make that decision “shortly after the bowl game,” but most people close to him are saying he would be crazy to not strike while the iron is hot.
Roderick said UCF’s defensive numbers look subpar because its offense plays so fast, averaging 85.7 plays per game, that its defense ends up defending more plays than usual.
“So I think some of their stats are a little bit deceptive, because of how many snaps they defend,” he said. “It is not wise to look at the point totals they give up or the yards they give up. … Their games are track meets.”
Roderick said UCF has the types of cornerbacks who can play man-press defense and the types of safeties and linebackers who can run with receivers and running backs.
“What I see on film is a lot of really good players on defense,” he said. “They can cover anybody that they play.”
BYU’s offensive production dropped in its last two regular-season games against Coastal Carolina and San Diego State because of the increased caliber of competition, and also because the Chanticleers and Aztecs were able to dominate time of possession. The Cougars had 405 yards vs. Coastal and 384 vs. SDSU, a season-low.
Against SDSU, Wilson was without two of his top three offensive weapons, running back Tyler Allgeier and receiver Gunner Romney and starting offensive lineman Clark Barrington. Sitake said Monday he is “assuming” that all three will play in the bowl game.
“As far as our health goes, I think it is good,” he said.
Receiver Dax Milne, who is No. 19 in the country in receiving yards per game with 101.6, said offensive leaders such as Wilson, running back Lopini Katoa and offensive linemen Brady Christensen, James Empey and Tristen Hoge, will not let the Cougars slack off as the final game approaches.
“Bowl games usually come down to which team wants to be there more or is more excited to play,” Milne said. “Sometimes it is easy to treat it like a vacation and not really a business trip as it should be. The key for us is to really buckle down and give it one last go and really focus and be excited to be there.”
That sort of intensity appeared lacking in BYU’s 38-34 loss to Hawaii last Christmas Eve at Aloha Stadium.
Roderick said Wilson and the offense have impressed for most of 11 games, but another chapter needs to be written before accolades can fly.
“I don’t think we can talk about legacy until we find out what happens in this next game,” he said. “Eleven wins is hard to do, and being a one-loss team is really hard to do. We got to go win this game first before we talk about that. … These guys have come a long way and it has been fun to watch them progress, but we got one more game before we can talk about what all that means.”