By the time UCF takes the field on Saturday afternoon against Maryland, it will have been over three weeks since the team last played. The long Hurricane-induced layoff could be looked at as an inconvenience, but the Knights are ready to move on and get everything back to normal.
“We’ve had a good week of practice,” coach Scott Frost said Thursday. “The coaches, everybody is anxious to play. It’s time to go up and test ourselves against a good Big Ten team. We’re looking forward to it.”
At its surface, Saturday afternoon’s meeting between the Knights (1-0) and Terrapins (2-0) looks like a typical matchup between two very different programs from two very different conferences. However, a deeper look reveals some very close similarities between the two.
“They look a lot like we do,” Frost said. “They made some good improvements in year one and I think they’re even better year two.”
For the Terrapins, 2016 was a new start under a new coach. D.J. Durkin, formerly serving as a defensive coordinator at Florida and then Michigan, came in to lead Maryland to a 6-6 regular season. The team then lost its bowl game, giving them a 6-7 overall finish. Sound familiar? It should, considering Frost arrived to UCF in 2016, led the Knights to a 6-6 regular season and then a bowl loss.
Now, in 2017, both teams feature young quarterbacks. Sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome started Maryland’s season-opening win over Texas, but left the game with a torn ACL. With the injury, the team turned to freshman Kasim Hill. Hill was efficient in a 63-17 win over Towson two weeks ago, and will now look for a similar result against a tougher defense. For UCF, it’s sophomore McKenzie Milton looking to keep things going. After an up-and-down freshman season, he picked apart FIU on Aug. 31 in a 61-17 win.
Of course, Milton’s first career start came last year against Maryland. In a lot of ways, the game was representative of his freshman season. There was the good: 260 passing yards and two touchdowns, which put the Knights in a good position to win. Then, there was the bad: an interception and six fumbles (three lost), the last of which set up the Terps’ game-winning touchdown in double overtime. The sting of that game is still felt as UCF gets set to see Maryland again.
“I remember the last play,” senior defensive tackle Tony Guerad said. “We’re gonna come back strong. We want revenge.”
If the Knights are going to get that much-desired revenge, they will need a complete performance like the one they had in week one’s blowout victory. The passing game, defense and special teams clicked, but the ground game lacked a certain explosiveness that the team needs. There is some help on the way, as the offensive line is set to see a big return from junior guard Tyler Hudanick, who tore his ACL last season against Temple.
“He made a big difference [in the run game] last year,” Frost said. “We weren’t quite the same running the ball after he was out. I think we’re better on the offensive line all around, but a healthy Tyler Hudanick is going to help our football team.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is set for 3 p.m. It will be televised on Fox Sports 1.