COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Twenty-three days after winning its season opener, Central Florida finally gets to play another football game.
The Knights defeated Florida International 61-17 on Aug. 31 before Hurricane Irma washed out matchups with Memphis and Georgia Tech. Cramming practice sessions around providing community service in Orlando, the players did their best to stay sharp for Saturday’s game against Maryland (2-0).
“Their desire to play football and their desire to go out and compete is going to drive them to work,” second-year coach Scott Frost said. “That speaks a lot about how mature our team is compared to last year, how they handled this whole thing.”
The Knights went 6-7 in 2016 after going winless the year before Frost’s arrival. One of the defeats last season was a 30-24 double-overtime loss to the Terrapins.
Eager to sustain the momentum of Frost’s rookie year, Central Florida rolled up 587 yards in the opener against FIU . Now the focus is on shaking off the effects of a lengthy layoff against Maryland, which upset Texas on the road 51-41 before ringing up a 63-17 rout of Towson.
“We’re all itching to get out there,” offensive lineman Jordan Johnson said. “It’s been a while since we played a game. We want to go out there and show the world what we’re made of.”
So is Maryland. This should be a good indication of whether the Terrapins have made substantial improvement from a year ago, when they needed a late touchdown run by then-freshman quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome to pull out the victory.
Pigrome was lost for the season with a knee injury against Texas, but Maryland’s prolific offense has thrived behind true freshman Kasim Hill.
Some things to watch in Saturday’s UCF-Maryland matchup:
PLANNED VACATION: Unlike UCF, the Terrapins are coming off a scheduled hiatus after getting an early bye last week. “It’s kind of odd to have it that early,” coach DJ Durkin said. “We worked on a lot of things, had a lot of things we had to improve on coming out of the first two games. They took the right approach last week. We had some really good practices, got better. A couple guys that may be dinged up here or there, took advantage of the treatment and rest time.”
MIRROR IMAGE: Both teams have second-year head coaches, both went 6-7 last year and both expect to be better in 2017. “I think Maryland is very similar to us. They made a bunch of improvements, and we have too,” Frost said. “The two teams were evenly matched last year and both programs have taken some more steps forward.”
QUARTERBACK THREAT: Knights sophomore McKenzie Milton had a tremendous outing against Florida International, going 16 for 21 for 360 yards and four touchdowns. There is no statistic, however, that measures how quickly he makes decisions on the run. “He’s elusive, he scrambles, he’s hard to get down on the ground,” Durkin said, “and when he scrambles, he keeps his eyes down the field as well. A lot of his big plays come from scrambling out of the pocket, kind of broken plays or buying time, and launching the ball down the field.”
SWEET SEPTEMBER: The Terrapins are 5-0 in September under Durkin and are averaging 47.4 points in those games. He is the first Terps coach to open with five straight non-conference wins since Jim Tatum in 1947-48.
MAKING A STATEMENT: UCF is looking to make a name for itself by beating a Big Ten team on the road. “I think our players are always going to have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder when we go play games like this,” Frost said. “We want to come away with a win.” The Knights are 1-9 against the Big Ten, the only win coming at Penn State in September 2013.
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