By the Associated Press
Mizzou linebacker Andrew Wilson, 48, pursues KSU quarterback Collin Klein on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011 in Manhattan, Kansas. Wilson leads all Football Bowl Subdivision players with four forced fumbles in 2012. Photo by Nick Gerhardt
It’s hard for a team to know where it can go until it establishes exactly what kind of team it is.
So far in 2012, to a large extent, both Central Florida and Missouri are still trying to get an idea on the latter.
Entering their matchup with the Tigers Saturday, the Knights (2-1) have the better record, with wins over Akron and Florida International sandwiching a competitive loss at Ohio State.
The Tigers (2-2) have had a bumpy introduction to the Southeastern Conference thus far thanks to a pair of lopsided losses to Georgia and at South Carolina last week.
It makes this week a potential momentum boost for the remainder of the season for both, with Missouri returning to SEC play next week and UCF beginning its league slate.
“The leadership responsibility for this program starts with me,” Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said. “It’s my job to fix the problems that we have here. Obviously I have a good staff, and have good seniors and captains.
“It’s hard to win. You have to play hard to win. You can’t go in and play your ‘B’ or ‘C’ games, and expect to win. It isn’t going to happen, especially against the people we have been playing.”
In the second game of a four-game home stand, Knights’ coach George O’Leary is keenly aware of the buzz surrounding his program as it hosts it first-ever SEC opponent. UCF is just 2-13 against SEC teams overall, its last win coming over Georgia in the 2010 Liberty Bowl to cap a school-best 11-3 finish.
“I think the big thing is that you play Ohio State, you’re playing Missouri. They’re SEC, Big Ten teams. You got to win those games if you want to get any notoriety,” O’Leary said. “The players understand it is the fourth game. It’s an important game. I think any time you can bring the SEC in to your house it should be a big deal with your fan base and everybody else concerned with the game.”
O’Leary’s team, looking for its first 3-1 start since 2007, will have back one of its best weapons this week with senior running back Latavius Murray likely playing in some capacity after missing two straight games with a shoulder injury. He’s definitely in the game plan, but O’Leary said he won’t start.
The Tigers will be down one of their important cogs on defense with linebacker Zaviar Gooden missing his second game this season after tweaking his hamstring against South Carolina.
Injuries aside, quarterback play figures to play a big role in Saturday’s matchup.
UCF sophomore Blake Bortles, who has looked solid at times throwing for seven touchdowns, also has five interceptions on the year. Three of those came in the Ohio State loss in which he acknowledged panicking in the pocket at times. He puts the biggest need to improve on his own shoulders coming out of a bye week.
“I think we still have a long way to go,” Bortles said. “We’re not nearly as polished as we need to be and we don’t execute near as much as we need to be. It starts with me. As a quarterback you need to be able to execute the most, and move the offense and be productive.”
Bortles and the offense can expect to get challenged by a Missouri defense that is second in the nation with eight fumble recoveries. Linebacker Andrew Wilson’s four forced fumbles lead all Football Bowl Subdivision players.
As for his offense, Pinkel gave junior signal caller James Franklin a vote of confidence this week after he threw for only 92 yards in last week’s loss. Franklin is coming off getting flack for refusing to take painkillers and sitting out the Tigers win over Arizona State Sept. 15.
“Typically in the game if, in the past, my shoulder’s hurt and I throw in the game, I don’t feel it,” Franklin said this week. “But this is a little different because I feel it. And I think that’s really been killing my confidence because I’ve been not trusting myself with being able to make throws or put something on it.”
On paper the Knights look like a team that could give Franklin fits, especially with a young Tigers’ offensive line that even Pinkel acknowledged has made his quarterback “a little frustrated.”
The Knights defense is ranked 32nd in the country in pass defense, allowing 188 yards per game. It ranks 44th in scoring defense, giving up 22 points per game. Missouri is averaging 29 points this season.
“I hope it’s the identity of us in the first half against FIU. That’s what we need to see for 60 minutes. I think it comes down to consistency. I still get disturbed with some guys out there,” O’Leary said of his defense. “You’ve got to be able to deliver a blow…The identity, I don’t know defensively. I think we got some big play potential guys but we got to get more out of them.”