UCF hosts SMU to open conference play

Written by: Andrew Johnson (@RealNews102)

Orlando, FL – Despite a couple of weather delays caused by Hurricane Ian, both UCF (3-1) and the SMU Mustangs (2-2) enter conference play this week in a key matchup that could determine both teams’ chances of an AAC championship. 

Kickoff inside FBC Mortgage Stadium is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. 

Both head coaches share history together which should make the contest even more intriguing.

SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee played quarterback for UCF head coach Gus Malzahn at Shiloh Christian School. He also worked with Malzahn at Arkansas, Arkansas State and Auburn.

“We’ll have a good conversation at the beginning of the game and it won’t be fake,” Lashlee said. “We’ll be real but he’s going to want to whip me and I know I want our team to whip his.”

UCF Knightlight Players

John Rhys Plumlee | QB1

Regardless of any struggles this season, Plumlee has led UCF to a 3-1 start heading into conference play in his first time back under center in two seasons. Plumlee leads the offensive ground game with 404 rushing yards and four touchdowns to add. He also has rushed for more than 100 yards in three out of four games this season. 

Plumlee’s ability to escape the pocket when things collapse is what likely keeps him behind center. If he’s able to tweak some throwing mechanics and develop better timing with receivers, it’ll help his arm confidence when delivering the ball. UCF’s offense still remains dangerous under his command. 

Stats: 69 of 117 – 827 passing yards – 5 TD – 206.75 avg.

404 rushing yards – 4 TD – 101 avg. 

Note: SMU is currently allowing 180.5 rushing yards per game. Look for UCF’s rushing attack to start early to set the tone in the trenches.

Javon Baker | WR

Baker has the skills to be next in line to join a successful list of NFL wide receivers from UCF, including Gabriel Davis, Tre’Quan Smith and Breshad Perriman. 

The Alabama transfer has quickly inserted himself into UCF’s offense alongside the electric Ryan O’Keefe. Baker is a junior that possesses unlimited potential, playing with a combination of strong hands and an excellent catch radius. 

Stats: 18 receptions – 257 yards – 2 TD – 64.25 avg.

RJ Harvey | RB

Harvey burst onto the scene in week three against Florida Atlantic when he recorded 8 rushes for 50 yards and one touchdown. He followed that performance with 12 rushes for 73 yards against Georgia Tech. Harvey has not played this many consecutive game-time minutes since tearing his ACL before the start of the 2021 season but looks ready to stamp his name amongst a deep running back room.

Harvey’s unique explosiveness added with the combination of both Isaiah Bowser and Johnny Richardson is tough for opposing teams to game plan against. He also provides a secure blocking component to the passing game and can run consistently through the tackles. Knight Nation should get used to both Harvey and Richardson carrying the rock more. 

Stats: 126 yards – 1 TD – 6.2 avg – 20 attempts 

Note: UCF is third in the nation with 275.8 rushing yards per game. Look out for all three guys to touch the ball early with a mix of Plumlee in the RPO scheme. 

Jason Johnson | LB

UCF’s defense has been the anchor of the team and it starts with guys like Johnson that are dedicated to being an asset to a winning program. Johnson has earned his spot by flying around the field, resembling former UCF linebacker Tatum Bethune. Johnson has stepped up to help to return linebacker Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste to replace some production losses since Bethune transferred to FSU. 

So far, UCF is playing great defense, holding opponents to only 13.5 points per game which ranks eighth-best in the country. SMU’s Tanner Mordecai has struggled with turnovers this season so look for UCF to bring the heat with the intention of causing interceptions or fumbles. 

Stats: 32 total tackles – 19 solo – 1 TFL

Colton Boomer | PK1

The freshman kicker seems to have ice in his veins since replacing Daniel Obarski. After Obarski missed both his field goal attempts to start the season, Boomer went 6/6 on field goal attempts and seemingly willed UCF to victory against Georgia Tech, scoring 13 points with his leg. 

Boomer can provide the team with peace of mind. Having a reliable kicker takes stress off the offense because he can put points on the board and help coaches scheme differently when driving towards the end zone. 

Stats: 6-6 field goals. Long: 43 yards 

SMU Impact Players

Tanner Mordecai | QB 

Mordecai flat-out torched UCF last season on the way to a 55-28 blowout win. Mordecai contributed to SMU’s nearly 650 total yards while throwing three passing touchdowns himself. Despite a different start to the 2022 season, Mordecai is more than capable of leading his team to victory.

This season: Mordecai has 350 or more yards in three of his four starts and has 12 passing touchdowns.

Note: SMU ranks No. 5 in the country with 353 yards per game. 

Rashee Rice | WR 

Stats: 34 receptions – 565 receiving yards – 4 TD

Nelson Paul | DE 

Stats: 20 total tackles – 3 sacks – 4 TFL

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