|No. 22 Central Florida looks to keep rolling versus ECU|
No. 22 Central Florida, behind coveted young coach Scott Frost, is one of the most impressive surprises of the college football season.
The Knights lead the nation in scoring at 47.5 points per game, and are 4-0 for the first time since joining the FBS 21 years ago.
They'll be big favorites Saturday, when struggling East Carolina comes to Orlando for an American Athletic Conference tilt.
Frost has emerged as a hot coaching prospect and is considered to be a top-tier candidate for any jobs that open at Power-5 conference programs. But, for now, he's more concerned with having his team playing at an elite level in only his second season at UCF.
The Knights (2-0 AAC) are one of just three teams to rank in the top 11 in scoring offense and scoring defense. The other two are No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Washington. Not bad company.
"The great thing is I think the guys understand it now," Frost said. "We don't even have to remind them. They see how good practice leads to good execution and good Saturdays. That's great as a head coach to watch the process work. ... Now, they believe."
A confident UCF team spells trouble for the Pirates (1-5, 1-2 ACC), who arrive bruised and battered after a 34-10 loss to Temple last week. East Carolina quarterback Thomas Sirk was under intense pressure and sacked four times by a suspect Owls' defense. The Pirates got nothing going on the ground, either, and dropped their second straight game in blowout fashion.
Since beating UConn 41-38 on Sept. 24, ECU has lost to South Florida and Temple by a combined score of 95-41.
To make things even more difficult, the offensive line could be without three regular contributors against a talented UCF defensive front. Center John Spellacy and guards D'Ante Smith and Cortez Herrin are each questionable for Saturday's game.
"You've got guys that are halfway injured and guys that are not halfway injured," coach Scottie Montgomery said.
"It's an 'OR' on a lot of them (on the depth chart), because you don't know if they are going to be able to practice on Tuesday, or will they be able to practice on Wednesday. ... I'm not going to name a starter for a guy that we don't even know if he is going to go Tuesday or Wednesday."
The Pirates lost their last four games of last season, Montgomery's first at ECU, and have continued a downward trend this year.
"Right now, we have got a lot of guys that are very confident and others that are just confident. We've got guys that need to build their confidence," Montgomery said.
"I wouldn't categorize the whole team as being confident or non-confident. I just think that there are different people with different levels of confidence and sometimes you can look at the stat sheet and see it."
Central Florida enters Saturday's game completely confident. The Knights scored on all eight of their possessions in last week's weather-shortened 51-23 rout of Cincinnati.
Quarterback McKenzie Milton completed 16 of 19 passes for 374 yards with five touchdowns. Big-play receiver Tre'Quan Smith caught three touchdowns from Milton and also rushed for a score in a dominating offensive performance. The Knights racked up 515 yards in just three quarters of play, before officials elected to stop the game with inclement weather in the area.
"Our standard is to be as good as we were this past game," UCF offensive lineman Jordan Johnson said this week. "We're very confident going into this next game, but we're just trying to be as good as we were last game and try to exceed the standard and keep pushing our levels every week."
Milton ranks second nationally, behind Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, in passing efficiency with a rating of 203.7. Milton has completed 69 of 101 passes for 1,165 yards, with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions.
UCF won at East Carolina 47-29 last season, despite being outgained 521-373 by the Pirates.
"Offensively, they're still dangerous," Frost said. "They have as good a passing attack as anybody in our league. Our defense is going to have to be ready for that. We're going to have to get after the passer and defend well on the back end."