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Playin’ Nice: Black and Gold Banneret

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Jeremy Brener of SB Nation’s UCF site, Black and Gold Banneret, gives us some deets on the Knights.

1. So what do UCF fans think of this match-up? Excited? Or still angry about being left out of the playoffs?

I think any UCF fan that tells you they are 100% happy to be playing in Arizona is lying to you. I think the same can be said for the Tigers as well. The Tigers wish they could be at a better bowl, as do the Knights. I think the argument for UCF was stronger last year, especially considering only one other team was undefeated (Clemson). This year, there were three (Alabama, Clemson, ND). However, yes, the Knights had a very legitimate argument to be in the playoffs. However, Knight Nation has this attitude that they are going to play (and gladly beat) whoever is in front of them. And the team adopts that same mindset. They have done everything in their power to play for the championship and got left out for reasons beyond their control. So, they’ll play (and gladly attempt to beat) LSU on New Year’s Day.

2. Can you update us on the status of McKenzie Milton, and how his absence might affect things for the Knights?

McKenzie had surgery on his knee and will attend the game, which I think is big. He’s been helping the QB room prepare for LSU as much as he can, which is important. The team rallies behind that leadership and he’s one of the rare players that can make a difference whether he is on or off the field. Obviously UCF would rather have them taking snaps under center, but that job now belongs to Darriel Mack Jr., who will likely have this job in 2019 as well. There was a lot of skepticism when Mack started, especially given how he played against USF after KZ got hurt and how he started the Memphis game. However, once he got comfortable, the offense rarely skipped a beat, which was fantastic. If UCF loses this game, I don’t believe it will be due to McKenzie’s absence.

3. What other players should we know about on offense?

Greg McCrae ran for 1,100 yards this season and he didn’t have a consistent amount of carries until November. The man is averaging 9 yards per carry! And Adrian Killins might be the fastest man in football, so UCF certainly has some weapons that LSU will need to neutralize.

4. How do you feel about Josh Heupel taking over as head coach compared to Scott Frost? How do you feel like he’s changed the offense for the Knights so far?

Heupel entered into a terrible situation because there was absolutely no possibility for him to surpass expectations. He was either going to be worse than Frost or the same. Luckily, he’s been the same. However, repeating is incredibly difficult in any sport, especially with a coaching change. Majority of the staff jolted for Lincoln, Nebraska and Heupel had to maintain the players, almost all of which he did not choose or recruit. I honestly feel like Heupel could not have done a better job this year. If anything, he’s elevated the offense by enhancing the weapons already set in place for Milton, Mack and the skill players.

5. Defensively, it’s been a rough year for UCF. What’s been the issue there, and how might LSU attack?

The front seven is easily the team’s biggest weakness. In the AAC Championship, UCF surrendered three rushing touchdowns of 60-plus yards. If the offensive line can create the holes for Nick Brosette, it could be the key to knocking UCF out of the game.

6. How do you see this game playing out?

LSU does not have a high-powered offense like UCF does. UCF outgained LSU by over 1800 yards this season. However, LSU played far better defenses than anyone in the AAC, and UCF has not faced a defense of LSU’s caliber this season. I think LSU will play a defense-first game and their offense will mold themselves together. I think UCF will play the exact opposite, letting the offense control the pace and the defense working itself out. I think if UCF can find the crack in the LSU defense, they will win. Turning this into a shootout would be in UCF’s best interest. However, if LSU can seize UCF’s assets, the Tigers will become the first team in over two years to beat the Knights.