NCF Nation: Darius Nall

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: UCF 3 keys

December, 30, 2010
You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for UCF in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Georgia on Friday:

1. Get after Aaron Murray. UCF had the top defense in Conference USA and has the ability to put pressure on quarterbacks. Murray has been sacked 21 times this season, and UCF has two terrific sack-masters in Bruce Miller and Darius Nall -- two Georgia products who would love nothing else than to show the Bulldogs what they missed. Miller won C-USA Defensive Player of the Year honors, while Nall has an inspirational story, having come back to play after being treated for cancer. The two have combined for 15.5 sacks this season. UCF had five sacks in the C-USA title game against SMU and a big reason why the Knights were able to shut SMU down was because of defensive pressure.

2. Contain A.J. Green. UCF cornerback Josh Robinson has had his share of struggles in coverage this season, but he did an excellent job on SMU leading receiver Aldrick Robinson in the C-USA title game, holding him to three catches for 43 yards. Robinson was highly motivated to prove himself in that game. The motivation should be even greater against Green, expected to be a high first-round pick in the NFL draft should he leave school early. Aldrick Robinson was a better matchup for Josh Robinson because of their similar statures. Both are 5-foot-10. But Green has a huge size advantage at 6-foot-4. He is more physical and more powerful than Aldrick Robinson, which is another big reason why UCF has got to get pressure on Murray.

3. Get the ground game going. UCF has four capable players who can run the ball: Ronnie Weaver, Latavius Murray, quarterback Jeff Godfrey and Jonathan Davis. Weaver, Murray and Godfrey have combined to score 31 rushing touchdowns this season. Murray had a terrific game against SMU, with 115 total yards and two touchdowns. Georgia has given up chunks of yards on the ground this season, allowing opponents an average of 149 yards a game. So it is going to be important for UCF to establish the run early to allow Godfrey more freedom in the pass game.

UCF Knights season recap

December, 7, 2010
Expectations were high going into the season thanks to a stout defense returning, but the big question is whether UCF would follow its maddening trend: down year following a good year. Well, the Knights broke that trend in a big way, posting back-to-back winning seasons for the first time under coach George O’Leary while winning their second Conference USA championship game. The defense was as good as advertised with defensive end Bruce Miller leading the way. UCF ranked No. 1 in the league in total defense and run defense. True freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey emerged as a star after taking over starting duties from veteran Rob Calabrese early in the season. He ranks eighth nationally in passing efficiency, and can use his legs to scramble out of trouble as well. Depth at running back was a pleasant surprise, considering incumbent Brynn Harvey missed the entire season with a knee injury. Latavius Murray and Ronnie Weaver combined for over 1,400 yards and 21 touchdowns. Now UCF has to keep building on the success it has had over the last two seasons to begin putting itself on the radar.

Offensive MVP: QB Jeff Godfrey. As outlined above, he has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country this season, and went 9-2 as a starter. O’Leary has been reluctant to play true freshmen at quarterbacks in the past, but there was no hesitation this time around because Godfrey is so good.

Defensive MVP: DE Bruce Miller. The leader of the defense, Miller led the team with 11.5 tackles for loss, 18 quarterback hurries and was second with seven sacks. He and Darius Nall were big forces on the line. Nall had 8.5 sacks and 14 hurries.

Turning point: UCF earned the first ranking in school history in November, then promptly lost to Southern Miss 31-21. But the Knights used that loss as motivation, especially the defense. In three wins after that loss, they gave up an average of 12.6 points a game and won the league title.

What’s next: UCF plays Georgia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, looking for its first bowl win in four tries.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

December, 6, 2010
Georgia Bulldogs (6-6) vs. UCF Knights (10-3)

Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Georgia take by SEC blogger Chris Low: For a while there, it looked like there was no way Georgia would keep alive its bowl streak, especially after losing four straight games for the first time in the Mark Richt era.

But the Bulldogs battled back and gained bowl eligibility on the final Saturday of the regular season with a 42-34 win over Georgia Tech, extending their bowl streak to 14 consecutive appearances.

The best part about this season for Georgia was the way redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray played. He’s passed for 2,851 yards this season, the second most ever for an SEC freshman quarterback. He’s thrown 24 touchdown passes and only six interceptions and also has four touchdowns runs.

Unfortunately, Murray didn’t have star receiver A.J. Green to throw to all season. Green was suspended by the NCAA for the first four games for selling one of his game jerseys, but he’s been a favorite target ever since returning.

The Bulldogs had their ups and downs in their first year in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense and still need to recruit to that scheme, in particular add some bigger defensive linemen. But junior outside linebacker Justin Houston certainly flourished. He’s second in the SEC with 10 sacks and is a blur coming off the edge.

UCF take by nation blogger Andrea Adelson: The Knights won their second Conference USA title on Saturday over SMU and hope that this win allows them to turn the corner and be taken seriously in Florida. After all, they have watched Florida, Florida State, Miami and even USF get all the headlines while they struggle for consistency.

This is actually the first season they have posted back-to-back winning campaigns since George O’Leary became coach in 2004. They have the best run defense and total defense in Conference USA and are led by defensive ends Bruce Miller and Darius Nall, and linebacker Derrick Hallman is the leader of the unit.

One point to watch -- cornerback Josh Robinson has been burned badly at times this season on the deep ball, so you can expect Georgia to take advantage with A.J. Green. Robinson did come up big against SMU because he knew the target would be on him. Well, it’s going to be even bigger against the Bulldogs.

The offense is balanced, and is led by a true freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey, who has been outstanding. UCF also has great depth at running back with Latavius Murray and Ronnie Weaver. The Knights need one more win to set the school record for most wins, but they are 0-3 in bowl appearances. Also, the Knights only own two wins over schools from AQ conferences -- Alabama (2000) and NC State (2007). So if they do want to be taken seriously, they need to win a game like this one.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

October, 25, 2010
Here are your non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each league.

Conference USA

Offense: Tulane WR Casey Robottom. Had a career-high 10 receptions for a career-best 151 receiving yards and two touchdowns in a 34-24 win over UTEP. His 43-yard touchdown catch gave the Green Wave the lead for good with 5:30 remaining in the game.

Defense: Houston LB Sammy Brown and UCF DE Darius Nall. Brown led the Cougars with eight tackles, two sacks and a forced a fumble in a 45-20 win over SMU. In the past two games, Brown has recorded nine tackles for loss and four sacks. Nall had 2.5 sacks, forced a fumble, had a pass pressure and tied for the team lead with six total tackles as UCF defeated Rice 41-14.

Special Teams: Houston KR Tyron Carrier. Scored on a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a win over SMU. It was the sixth of his career. Clemson's C.J. Spiller holds the NCAA career record with seven kickoff returns for touchdowns.


East Division

Offense: Kent State WR Tyshon Goode. Had a career-high 12 catches for a season-high 158 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-6 win at Bowling Green. He also extended his consecutive games with a catch streak to 15.

Defense: Temple DT Muhammad Wilkerson. Led the Owls with six tackles and a career-high 2.5 sacks in a 42-0 win at Buffalo. Temple had its first shutout since 1992 and first shutout of a BCS opponent since 1984.

Special teams: Kent State K Freddy Cortez. Scored 12 points in a 30-6 victory at Bowling Green. Cortez tied his career-high with three field goals (29, 32, 30), while making all three extra points. He missed a 51-yarder.

West Division

Offense: Western Michigan WR Juan Nunez. Had six receptions for a career-high 192 yards and three touchdowns in a 56-10 win over Akron.

Defense: Northern Illinois LB Tyrone Clark. Had two interceptions in a 33-7 win over Central Michigan. Both came in the second quarter to stop Chippewa drives and ensure that the Huskies would have a halftime lead.

Special Teams: Toledo KR Isaiah Ballard. Returned three kickoffs for 103 yards, including a 56-yard return, in a 31-24 win over Ball State.

Mountain West

Offense: TCU RB Ed Wesley and Utah QB Jordan Wynn. Wesley had a career-high 209 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 28 carries to help the Horned Frogs beat Air Force 38-7. Wynn completed 23 of 29 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns in three quarters of action in a 59-6 win over Colorado State.

Defense: BYU LB Brandon Ogletree. Had career highs of five solo tackles and three tackles for loss in a 25-20 win over Wyoming. Four of the tackles came on Wyoming’s final drive of the game, and two were for a loss.

Special Teams: BYU KR Cody Hoffman. Had 104 kick return yards in the victory over Wyoming. In all, Hoffman averaged 26.0 yards on four kick returns.

Sun Belt

Offense: Western Kentucky QB Kawaun Jakes. Went 18-of-22 for a season-high 262 yards and one touchdown in a 54-21 win over Louisiana, snapping a 26-game losing streak. He also picked up 28 rushing yards and scored two rushing touchdowns. He led the Hilltoppers to scores on nine straight offense possessions.

Defense: Arkansas State DB Adrian Hills. Recorded a career-high two interceptions, including one returned 37 yards for a touchdown, over the final 10 minutes of a 37-16 fourth-quarter comeback victory against Florida Atlantic.

Special Teams: Western Kentucky K Casey Tinius. Score 12 points in the Hilltoppers’ victory over Louisiana. His 47-yard kick as time expired in the first half tied a career long.


Offense: Hawaii running back Alex Green. Ran for a career-high 172 yards and four touchdowns on 14 carries in a 45-7 win at Utah State. He had a career-long rush of 60 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Defense: Hawaii linebacker Corey Paredes. Had a game-high 10 tackles and two interceptions at Utah State. Paredes helped anchor a defense that held its opponent to 181 yards of total offense, the fewest in a game for the Warriors since 2005.

Special Teams: Fresno State K Kevin Goessling. Made all four of his field goal attempts in a 33-18 win at San Jose State. Goessling was also 3-for-3 on extra point attempts to run his consecutive streak to 116 -- 12 shy of the all-time WAC record.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

September, 20, 2010
Here they are, the players of the week for all five non-AQ conferences:

Conference USA

Offense: UAB QB Bryan Ellis. Came off the bench in the second quarter and threw for 360 yards and three touchdowns to lead UAB to a 34-33 come-from-behind win over Troy. Ellis led a 99-yard drive in the final 1:09 of the game, capping off the drive with a 44-yard touchdown pass to Jackie Williams. His performance helped the Blazers overcome a 23-0 lead for the biggest comeback in school history.

Defense: UCF DE Darius Nall. Led UCF with nine tackles, including three for loss and two sacks, plus a pass break-up and a quarterback hurry in UCF’s 24-10 win at Buffalo. He became just the sixth defensive lineman to lead UCF in tackles for a game under George O’Leary.

Special teams: Memphis P Tom Hornsey; Southern Miss DB Deron Wilson. Hornsey kicked a career-high 10 punts in the game, averaging 41.7 yards per punt. He had a career-long 63-yard punt in the fourth quarter and had two inside the 20 in the win over Middle Tennessee. Wilson recovered a blocked punt and went seven yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter of the Golden Eagles’ 31-16 win over Kansas on Friday night.


East Division

Offense: Temple RB Bernard Pierce. Ran for 169 yards and scored three touchdowns in a 30-16 win over Connecticut. Pierce moved up to No. 8 on Temple’s career rushing list and now has 1,662 rushing yards.

Defense: Bowling Green LB Dwayne Woods. Was second on the team with eight tackles, including one tackle for loss, two pass break-ups and one interception return for a touchdown in a 44-28 win over Marshall.

Special teams: Ohio P Paul Hershey. Had three 50-plus yard punts in a loss to Ohio State and dropped two inside the 20-yard line.

West Division

Offense: Central Michigan RB Paris Cotton. Ran for a career-high 209 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-14 win at Eastern Michigan. He became the first player to go over 200 yards at the school since 2004.

Defense: Toledo DB Desmond Marrow. Had 10 tackles and two interceptions, including one he returned 15 yards for a touchdown in a win over Western Michigan.

Special teams: Northern Illinois P Josh Wilber. Averaged 49.0 yards on five punts in 28-22 loss at Illinois. Wilber had three punts of over 50 yards with punts of 51, 56 and 55 yards, with all three of those kicks pinning the Illini inside their 12-yard line.

Mountain West

Offense: San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman and TCU QB Andy Dalton. Hillman rushed for 228 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries in a 27-24 loss at Missouri. He became the first Aztec player to run for over 200 yards in a game in seven years, while also setting a new MWC freshman single-game rushing record.

Dalton had for 293 yard of total offense and two touchdowns in TCU’s 45-10 win over Baylor. Dalton’s 91.3 completion percentage is a MWC record and is tied for the highest mark by an FBS passer with a minimum of 20 attempts since 2004.

Defense: Utah DB Lamar Chapman. Had a team-high eight tackles, including seven solo stops, two tackles for loss and one sack in Utah’s 56-14 victory at New Mexico.

Special Teams: Utah WR/PR Shaky Smithson. Returned four punts for 140 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown. Smithson topped the 100-yard mark and returned a punt for a touchdown for the second straight game, averaged 35.0 yards per return.

Sun Belt

Offense: Arkansas State QB Ryan Aplin, Troy QB Corey Robinson. Aplin recorded 318 yards of total offense and had two touchdowns in a 34-20 victory over ULM. He led ASU on four scoring drives that covered at least 70 yards.

Robinson became the third quarterback in school history, and the first freshman, to pass for more than 400 yards in a game by going 26-of-44 for 404 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to against UAB. He has now attempted 113 consecutive passes without an interception.

Defense: FIU DB Anthony Gaitor. Gaitor gave FIU a 20-6 lead over Texas A&M in the third quarter when he returned an interception 54 yards for a touchdown. He also forced a fumble when he sacked Johnson in the first quarter in the game FIU ultimately lost.

Special teams: Middle Tennessee P Josh Davis. Punted four times for a school record 59.8-yard average, including a 78-yarder, the third longest punt in school history. Three of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line.


Offense: Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick. Had 329 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in a 52-31 win over No. 24 California on Friday night.

Defense: Idaho DE Aaron Lavarias. Had four tackles, including two sacks, and a forced fumble in Idaho's 30-7 win over UNLV.

Special teams: Idaho K Trey Farquhar. Made all three of his field goal attempts and was 3-for-3 in extra points in the win against UNLV. He also had seven kickoffs that went into the end zone.