UCF prepares for ECU with conference championship game mentality

Produced by Frank Shala

Justin+Holman+has+thrown+for+2%2C387+yards+and+19+touchdowns+through+11+games+this+season+for+UCF.

Bryce Brimhall / Valencia Voice

Justin Holman has thrown for 2,387 yards and 19 touchdowns through 11 games this season for UCF.

The American Athletic Conference may not get an outright winner this season, but for UCF’s football team getting a share of the title would be accomplishing a goal they set before the season even started.

“It’s what our ultimate goal is every year and we’re able to achieve that, that’d be very special for us,” said senior linebacker Terrence Plummer.  “We’ll be the first team to win back-to-back conference championships if we get it done.”

But to win that second consecutive AAC championship the Knights will have to travel to Greenville, N.C. to face the ECU Pirates in a weekday game that feels, in some respects to a conference championship game.

UCF’s defense will face a challenge against ECU, as the Pirates feature a spread offense that includes FBS all-time leading receiver Justin Hardy and senior quarterback Shane Carden. Hardy has 98 receptions on the season for 1,194 yards and eight touchdowns, he has 364 receptions and 4,241 yards with 33 touchdown catches for his career.

“The whole receiving core from watching film is just really explosive,” said UCF defensive back Jordan Ozerities about containing ECU’s receivers. “From the guys on the outside to the guys to the guys that play the slot and the running back,

“Two (Justin Hardy) is a real good receiver; so their going to try and give him the ball so we’ve definitely got to key in on him on defense and just do the best we can to stop him.”

The Knights secondary is full of seniors as well as sophomore cornerback Jacoby Glenn, who leads the conference in passes defended and interceptions.

Hardy won’t be the only receiver that the Knights secondary will have to lock down, as the Pirates feature two other wideouts with over 800 yards receiving. Carden also does a good job protecting the ball, having thrown just six interceptions this season.

“It starts with the quarterback, I think the quarterback is very, very good,” said UCF head coach George O’Leary of the ECU offense. “I don’t think he makes a lot of mistakes, I think he’s quick with his reads, he gets rid of the ball quick, I think he knows defense and I think he’s been well schooled.”

It’s still unclear if UCF will have either running back William Stanback or Dontravious Wilson back this week after both missed the USF game last Friday.

Rannell Hall did a good job of filling in on some of the running duties against USF, but if neither back can go the bulk of the offense will rely on quarterback Justin Holman.

Holman has played consistently well over the past three weeks, earning praise from both his head coach and offensive coordinator and if Holman can put together one more solid game UCF can win back-to-back conference championships for the first time in program history.

A win against ECU would clinch a share of the AAC title for the Knights, but they would at least be sharing it with Memphis, if not also Cincinatti after Saturday’s games, but being able to successfully defend their conference championship from a year ago is more important for UCF.

“When you’re the defending champ and you win the conference again it carries a little bit more weight than taking it for the first time in how many years,” said O’Leary of potentially splitting the championship. “I think when you can repeat that carries a lot of weight, it may be shared but a conference championship is a conference championship.”

The Knights historically haven’t played well in Greenville, as the Pirates hold a 6-1 advantage when playing at home. ECU leads the all-time series 9-3.

The UCF take on ECU at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Thursday night for a primetime game on ESPN. kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. from Greenville, N.C.