Let’s begin with an understatement.
The American Athletic Conference Football Championship will attract more attention from Nebraska fans than normal.
No. 20 Memphis is an impressive outfit under second-year head coach Mike Norvell and features a high-scoring offense led by quarterback Riley Ferguson. It’s the other second-year head coach with an explosive team and quarterback, though, that will draw Husker fans everywhere to the television at 11 a.m.
In all likelihood, it will be the final game as head coach of No. 14 Central Florida (11-0) for Scott Frost, the 1997 NU national champion quarterback and object of affection around here for more than 20 years — particularly so the past three months.
So, if you’re settling in to watch the Knights, consider Husker athletic director Bill Moos' words on Saturday when asked what kind of football he thought the school should play in the future and compare it to how Frost does business in Orlando.
“People say you can’t throw the ball in the Big Ten, but I don’t agree with that," Moos said then. "I for one like a balanced attack, but I’m not the coach. I think you do need to run the ball. More importantly, I think you need to stop the run.”
Check, check, check and check.
The Knights are third in the nation in yards per play at 7.44. They are balanced — 55 percent run from their spread attack — and come in 35th in the nation in rushing offense (198 yards per game and 35 rushing touchdowns), 11th in passing offense (325.2 per game) and second in passing efficiency (181.6, thanks to 31 passing touchdowns, six interceptions and 10.2 yards per attempt).
They average 5.1 yards per carry and have a stable of options, led by sophomore Adrian Killins (711 yards, 7.2 per carry) and freshman Otis Anderson (343, 8.0).
“What makes them special is they’re so diverse in their presentation of attack," Norvell said Friday in a news conference in Orlando. "They can run inside, they can run outside. Obviously, they’ve got many backs that can hurt you and are very explosive and if they can get into the open field, their speed takes over.”
UCF’s rush defense hasn’t been quite as sparkling — it checks in 54th at 155.1 yards allowed per game and is also tied for 54th at 4.17 per carry — but its 11 rushing touchdowns allowed is tied for 19th.
What else, Mr. Moos?
“I do feel in recent years — and, to some degree, dating back earlier than Nebraska — a dual-threat quarterback is needed that can stretch the defense,” he said. “If you have a good one, it’s nearly impossible to stop.”
Oh, UCF has that.
Sophomore McKenzie Milton has 3,301 passing yards, 30 touchdown passes and six interceptions to go along with 429 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns.
“I don’t think this offense is as good without that weapon, a quarterback that can move,” said Frost on Friday, speaking after Norvell. “McKenzie is not just a good runner, he’s been very elusive in the pocket. Our offensive line certainly has done a good job this year, but a lot of our low sack total has to do with him being able to escape and evade pressure.”
The Knights have allowed just 11 sacks, tied for the seventh-best per-game rate in the nation.
The next line from Moos: “Then you throw a little option in with that, a couple big tight ends and gifted receivers.”
This sounds familiar. UCF runs a lot of zone-read and run-pass option, giving Milton the ability to put himself and the offense in a good numbers situation as often as possible. A first-quarter touchdown against South Florida last week came on a triple option straight out of Frost’s Lincoln days, except it came from a shotgun set.
On top of that, the Knights have had 10 different receivers catch touchdowns this season and have six averaging more than 14.6 yards on at least nine catches.
Then Moos addressed defense.
“Let’s get the Blackshirts back to being the Blackshirts,” he said. “Nebraska has been known for defense, and we need to get the defense back. I know this is an old cliché, but offenses fill the stadium and defenses win championships.”
The Knights haven’t exactly locked people down, but they’ve created a lot of big plays.
UCF is smack in the middle of FBS teams in yards allowed per play, checking in at 64th (5.53). Its 30 offensive touchdowns allowed stands 35th in the nation.
The Knights have forced 27 turnovers, though, tied for fourth-most. That gives them a plus-17 margin, tied for the best in the country with state-mate and turnover chain purveyor Miami.
The money line from Moos when asked about his preferences: "A winning style," he deadpanned.
UCF is 11-0.
It remains to be seen how all of the systems translate exactly to Lincoln — once the deal is official, of course — and there is plenty of work to do.
While you watch Frost and the Knights, though, consider just how thoroughly Moos described their operation on Saturday as he stood at a Memorial Stadium podium and said he had no priority candidates in his search.