June 20, 2012
UCF Athletics Social Media Directory
By Joey Nelson
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The Knights are set to open Conference USA play against rival East Carolina on Thursday, Oct. 4, in Bright House Networks Stadium. The matchup stands as the 12th meeting between the schools with East Carolina claiming last season's matchup, 38-31.
ECU owns the series lead with nine wins and looks to reclaim the C-USA throne with their third conference title.
The Pirates enter their third year under head coach Ruffin McNeil, aiming to capture their first winning season since McNeil replaced former head coach Skip Holtz. ECU finished last season 5-7 and third in Conference USA's East division. The Pirates ranked second in C-USA with a third down conversion rate of 46.07 percent but topped the nation in giveaways with 35.
Offensive Player to Watch
East Carolina returns seven starters on offense but loses two-year starting quarterback Dominique Davis. The spring featured a quarterback battle between junior Rio Johnson and senior Brad Wornick, but no matter who is taking snaps at center this fall, the Pirates will have sophomore wide receiver Justin Hardy to throw to. Hardy was named to the 2011 Conference USA All-Freshman Team and finished off the season with 64 receptions for 658 yards. The 6-foot-1 wideout also caught six touchdowns and has a knack for turning small plays into big gains. Hardy is an electric player in open space and has the ability to make defenders miss, providing a mismatch when he moves into the slot and plays across an opposing linebacker.
Defensive Player to Watch
Inside linebacker Justin Grove notched 122 tackles during his freshman campaign and broke the ECU rookie record for tackles in a season. The Maryland native ranked 10th among FBS players with 11 tackles per game and was the only freshman to rank in the FBS's top-90 tacklers. Coaches describe Grove's play as instinctive and sound, praising his relentless effort and "old-school" approach to the game. Grove was also named to C-USA's All-Freshman Team and is primed for a breakout season barring a setback in recovery from a shoulder injury. Grove racked up 11 stops and made his first sack in last season's bout against UCF.
Knight vs. Pirate Matchup To Look Out For
The Pirates' defense struggled immensely last year, giving up 32.25 points per game and allowing 174.17 rushing yards per contest. The Pirates play under a 3-4 system which is held down by senior nose tackle Michael Brooks. He led ECU's linemen with 55 tackles but is still looking for consistent help out on the edge. Look for a tight battle in the trenches with UCF offensive lineman aiming to take advantage of the Pirates' defensive line. Latavius Murray pounded the ball 21 times for 87 yards against the Pirate defense last season and should find running room out on the edge. If the offensive line can open holes for UCF tailbacks and get their hands on defenders at the second level, the Knights should be able to churn out big yards.