As we get closer and closer to the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day, it’s time to continue our preview of UCF position-by-position. We’ve talked about their running backs (talkin’ trash), and their quarterbacks (daring to finish ahead of Kerryon Johnson in the Heisman voting), and so we’ll flip the script and go across the line of scrimmage to the defense.
Namely, the linebackers, which are actually a very good unit for the UCF Knights.
They’re led by All-American and former AAC Defensive Player of the Year Shaquem Griffin.
Perhaps you’ve heard some of his story -- he only has one hand, and I can only imagine what he’d do with two functioning ones.
Griffin’s been a terror so far this season on defense for UCF. He’s accrued 62 tackles, 10 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered, and a defensive touchdown. He’s been everywhere, but standing at 6’1, 223 pounds, we’ll see if he’s able to hold up to the kind of pounding that his defense will face against the offensive attack of Auburn’s run game.
As a whole, UCF’s defense has been weird when you look at the numbers. They’re obviously not winning games with defense, giving up 25.2 points per game (54th in the country), but they haven’t been losing games because of their defense either.
The last two games against USF and Memphis, UCF allowed 1400 combined yards in those two close wins. 1400. However, they’ve been opportunistic, grabbing a turnover in every game, and multiple turnovers in nine of twelve games this year. That includes five turnovers in the win over Temple, and four turnovers in the wins over FIU and Memphis early in the season. The linebackers are a big part of that effort.
Joining Griffin in the middle are Titus Davis, who’ll also put his hand on the ground since he stands at 6’1, 240. Davis has really grown for UCF this year with 58 tackles after just 17 combined over the past two seasons. He’s also added 4.5 TFLS and a sack to go along with an interception as a junior this year.
Also along the linebacking corps, Pat Jasinski leads the team in tackles in the middle with 96 stops on the year and 7.5 TFLs. He stands at 6’1, 226, so again Scott Frost has elected to go with linebackers on the smaller and speedier side (very Tubervillian of him). Jasinski will man the middle with Chequan Burkett, a fifth-year player for the Knights who’s been a mainstay on defense with at least 35 tackles each of the past four seasons.
Burkett adds another 74 stops this year, and is the fourth linebacker in the top five of tacklers on the Knight team. For the most part, it’s a group that makes most of the work on defense, and a lot of the action has funneled to them whether they’re making tackles at or behind the line, or down the field a ways. The battle between the offensive line/Chandler Cox and these guys will be an interesting one to watch. If Kerryon Johnson is fully healthy and getting to run free before making a move several yards downfield, then Auburn could be in for a fun New Year’s Day.
We’ll cover more of the defense tomorrow.