Offensive line will be key for UCF in 2016

ORLANDO — Establishing the running game will be key for UCF in 2016 and for a team that finished  last season as the only Division I program to not reach 1,000 yards on the ground that will all start with the offensive line.

The Knights are coming off a 2015 season in which their running game ranked 126 out of 127 NCAA Division I teams in yards per game and only totaled 975 rushing yards. Struggles in the running game may have been the culmination of multiple setbacks the team faced early in the season, including the injury to starting center Joey Grant.

What really seemed to hurt UCF when it came to the running game was the inexperienced offensive line, which after losing Grant only had 11 starts between the rotation of starters that included one true freshman and two redshirt freshman.

Despite the setbacks of 2015 players and coaches are positive about the progression the offensive line has made as a unit and know that success in 2016 will start and end with the front five.

“It starts up front, in the run game if the front five, the o-line, if their not getting push and doing their job then it doesn’t matter who the running back is,” said UCF offensive coordinator Troy Walters. “And in the pass game if their not protecting and knowing their assignments then the pass game doesn’t matter.”

A positive for the offensive line going into this season will be the experience the team has returning on the front five, those same inexperience players from a year ago now have a whole season under their belts.

The Knights return multiple starters to the offensive line including center Jason Rea and left tackle Aaron Evans. Evans was the only player on the front five to start all 12 games in 2015 and Rae started in 10 games following the injury to Grant, those two veterans along with experienced second-year starters Wyatt Miller and Tyler Hudanick add another 17 starts to an offensive line that a year ago didn’t have a player with more than seven starts.

“I think they’ve done an awesome job coming together as a group, they’ve done an awesome job with their communication,” said quarterback Nick Patti of the offensive line’s development. “The majority of the calls and communication happens with them, so they’ve been awesome, they’ve done a ton of extra work on their own, I think you’ve seen that group come together.

“Ton of confidence in those guys, running backs, quarterbacks, receivers, everybody has a ton of confidence in those guys based on the work they’ve done, we’ve seen it.”

With a more experienced offensive line and a stable of running backs that include Taj McGowan, C.J. Jones and Dontravious Wilson, the Knights offense should be able to surpass the last place finish they had a year ago in total offense and establish a running game that new head coach Scott Frost can be proud of, not to mention will help allow him to spread the field for his fast-paced offense.

“They’re all explosive, they all can make plays and they all do things differently,” said Walters. “So they each can have a role, we’ll see them all probably playing this year and with the o-line and the development up front I think our running game’s going to be pretty solid.”

UCF opens the season against the South Carolina State on Saturday, Sept. 3 at Bright House Networks Stadium with kickoff at 7 p.m.

The Knights will hold their Media Day on Wednesday and the Valencia Voice will be there with coverage from coach Frost’s press conference and multiple player interviews.