Central Florida has faced Navy and its triple-option offense before, but first-year Knights coach Gus Malzahn did not see that style too often during his Southeastern Conference days as the coach of Auburn.
Luckily for UCF (2-1, 0-0 American Athletic Conference), the team had an open date last week, providing extra time to prepare for the Midshipmen’s run-heavy attack ahead of the Knights’ league opener Saturday at Annapolis, Md.
Malzahn said Navy’s offense “presents challenges,” even though the Midshipmen average the fewest points per game in FBS (10.0).
“It’s an offense you don’t see the entire year,” Malzahn said. “I know Travis (Williams, UCF’s defensive coordinator) has worked hard during fall camp, even some on Sunday nights preparing for this. Hopefully having that week will help us with that defensively.”
The Knights will kick off their conference schedule against Navy after a reasonably successful September. They stormed back for a Week 1 win over Boise State and trounced FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman before hanging close with Louisville on Sept. 17. Saturday will be the Knights’ first chance to wipe an awful taste from their mouths after Dillon Gabriel gave up a last-minute pick six in a 42-35 road loss to the Cardinals.
Gabriel is out indefinitely after breaking his clavicle, but he won’t need surgery. True freshman Mikey Keene will make his first collegiate start against Navy (0-3, 0-1 AAC).
Keene will get to face a team still searching for its first win. Navy saw its first conference action last week and took a 17-7 halftime lead over Houston but allowed three touchdowns in a 6:08 span and lost 28-20.
Starting quarterback Xavier Arline is Navy’s leading rusher (171 yards, two touchdowns) as well as its leading passer (5 of 14, 109 yards) on the season. Arline was happy with the progress his unit showed last Saturday but hopes to do better in finding his passing lanes.
“I think taking pre-snap reads will help, being that I’m more of a shorter guy,” said Arline, who is 5-foot-9. “Taking pre-snap reads and anticipating where guys are going to be on the field before it happens will give me a better opportunity to get the ball out of my hands. …
“If we can just put all the pieces together, I think we’re going to be a really good football team.”
UCF is 2-0 all-time against Navy. The programs haven’t met since 2018.
–Field Level Media