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What you need to know: BYU vs. Central Florida preview

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In the second game of a two-game series, the Cougars will try and knock off UCF on Thursday night.

Christian Stewart is tackled during the game against Utah State
Christian Stewart is tackled during the game against Utah State
Gene Sweeney Jr.

The History

The Thursday night meeting between the UCF Knights and the BYU Cougars will be the second meeting between the schools. The first of a two-game series was played in Provo in 2011 and ended with a Cougar win. Depending on what happens the rest of the season, the teams could meet again in the Miami Beach Bowl as it is owned by the AAC and will provide an AAC opponent for BYU. The Cougars have a friendly relationship with the AAC so that leaves the door open for future games with UCF as well.

Provo, Utah 2011 BYU 24-17

In a game dominated by defense and special teams, the Cougars gave up early points as the Knights drove 63 yards and finished with a 34-yard field goal on their first possession. BYU would match the field goal with a 37-yarder off the foot of Justin Sorensen. BYU would give UCF great field position as an intercepted Jake Heaps pass set up the Knights at the BYU 17. UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey would put the Knights up with a 10 yard touchdown run and a 10-3 lead that would hold up until the 3rd quarter.

In the third quarter the BYU defense would come up with a stop at the UCF three yard line that allowed the Cougars to take over on the UCF 38, leading to a 16-yard touchdown run by JJ Di Luigi to tie it up at 10. On the very next drive, the Knights took back the lead after Godfrey ran for a 1-yard touchdown following a 54-yard pass that put the Knights in position.

On the ensuing kickoff Cody Hoffman took the ball at the seven and ran 93 yards to tie the game on the Cougars' first kick return for a touchdown since 1998. Early in the fourth quarter, a muffed punt by the Knights led to a Bryan Kariya touchdown from six yards out, giving the Cougars a 24-17 lead. BYU would hold on as UCF drove to the three yard line, but a tipped pass by Kyle Van Noy was intercepted by Joe Sampson to end the threat.

The Outlook

The game against Utah State dramatically changed the Cougars season and outlook for each of the following games, leaving fans disappointed and concerned. The loss of Taysom Hill to a leg fracture has thrown backup Christian Stewart into the forefront, and limelight, of BYU football. Fans can be forgiven for being skeptical as Stewart is an unknown commodity for the Cougars and many will take the "wait and see" approach.

For more information on Christian Stewart, take a look at "Christian Stewart's time to shine".

The Positives

The Cougars were able to move the ball against the Aggies, so there is hope for the offense. Stewart will benefit from the practice reps with the first team, although it will be less obvious this week as there are only a couple practice days. Stewart finished with 172 yards passing -- though he overthrew a number of receivers -- and showed flashes of what he can accomplish. Spending time practicing with his receivers will allow the group to get accustomed to the timing of each other, and will minimize some of the inaccuracy that was shown on Friday.

The Negatives

The defense for the Cougars failed to show up in the first half, and by the time they made adjustments, Hill was out and the Cougars were not going to make a comeback. In the first half alone, the defense gave up over 250 yards passing and 28 points. The Aggies had four drives over 75 yards, three of them coming in the first half and all over 80 yards. For the third game in a row, the Cougars were unable to build any pass rush and long passes over the secondary were the result. If the Cougars are going to build up any momentum, the defense will need to provide much more support than has been given the last three weeks.

The Match-ups

UCF wide receivers vs BYU secondary:

In an offense that has struggled this year, the Knights have a couple of wide receivers that are making some noise. Breshad Perriman is the leading receiver with 258 yards on only nine receptions. For those not interested in doing the math, that comes out to be 28.7 yards per catch. Breshad also leads the team in touchdown receptions with two. J.J. Worton has 10 receptions and 159 yards with a touchdown. The Cougars secondary can't sit on these guys, even though the offense is struggling, or they will beat the secondary and put up some points.

BYU run game vs. UCF front seven:

BYU will need the  run to be successful. With a new quarterback and an elite runner, the Cougars will lay more carries on Jamaal Williams and spread a few others among Algie Brown and Adam Hine. The Knights' front seven knows that BYU will need the run to take pressure off Stewart and will have every intention of shutting it down. Don't be surprised to see the front seven going all out to stop the run, leaving the secondary to deal with the receivers.

The Keys to Watch

When the Knights have the ball:

Watch for the Knights to attack the Cougars secondary. Currently they are only averaging 178.5 passing yards a game, but will be chomping at the bit after seeing how the Cougar defense has played the last three weeks. As a team, the Knights only average 102 rushing yards per game, so watch for them to only use the run in order to set up the pass. Justin Holman has only completed 54% of his passes but will work on getting the ball to his two leading receivers Perriman and Worton.

Watch for the Cougars to keep the receivers in front of them so the deep passes will not be duplicated from last week. The Cougars will try and blitz more as the pass rush must get better, and can force quicker passes with even less accuracy. The Cougars are still strong against the run so watch for them to be prepared to shut down an already struggling run game, forcing the Knights to rely on an inaccurate arm.

When the Cougars have the ball:

Watch for the offense to rely heavily on Williams and the other running backs. The running backs will not only get a significant amount of carries, but they will be used in the short passing game and as outlets for Stewart. BYU will require Stewart to run much less than Hill, but will still have a couple of plays designed for him. As Anae showed against the Aggies, he is not averse to letting Stewart air it out and go for the homerun. Watch as the Cougars try to spread the field a few times early in order to open up the running game for Williams and company.

Watch for the Knights to put pressure on the offensive line and try to rattle the new Cougar quarterback. The Knights are only allowing 20.8 points per game and will look to keep the Cougars from making the big play. UCF is likely confident it can stop the Cougars from scoring, so watch for the Knights to take a few more chances as they try to rattle Stewart.

Interesting Tidbits

Situated on the UCF campus is a pond with fountains called the Reflection Pond. This pond is used for a number of things, including engineering projects, but legend states that it can't be entered during a non-sanctioned university event. In 1995 a tradition was started when a student was accidently pushed into the pond during Homecoming activities and has turned into an event of its own. On the Friday before the Homecoming football game the students rush into the pond to celebrate. The event is known as the "Spirit Splash" and has been named as the top student tradition in Florida. Click here for more information on the Reflection Pond.

Next Meeting

The Knights and Cougars do not have any further games scheduled at this time.

The Forecast

Look for the temperature to be in the high 70s with a 20 percent chance of rain and winds blowing to the northeast at about 11 mph.

The Broadcasting Details

Time: 5:30 pm MDT

Where: Bright House Networks Stadium- Orlando, FL

TV: ESPN

Radio (BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143

Listen Live via Internet (KSL): Click Here

Radio Links (UCF): Click Here