- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Three things to watch in tonight's Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl between UCF and Ball State:
1. Stopping the run: Both teams have prolific offenses, and it all starts on the ground. Ball State ran for at least 220 yards seven times this season and is led by 1,300-yard back Jahwan Edwards. UCF tailback Latavius Murray has scored a touchdown in eight straight games. The key is whether either defense can make stops and force some third-and-long situations. The Knights have the much better defense statistically, ranking No. 22 nationally in total yards allowed and leading Conference USA in scoring defense. The Cardinals, meanwhile, gave up more than 200 rushing yards and 31.5 points per game, though their defense did improve as the season went on. This game could come down to a defensive stand or two in crunch time.
2. Special teams: UCF has the nation's top kick return man in Quincy McDuffie, but special-teams breakdowns hurt the Knights in their overtime loss to Tulsa in the Conference USA title game. They allowed a punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and had a field goal blocked in the first extra period. Ball State has some impressive specialists of its own. Kicker Steven Schott ranked second in the nation with 24 made field goals, while punter Scott Kovanda was a Ray Guy finalist. All eyes will be on the offenses, but big plays in the kicking game could make the difference.
3. Ball security: Neither team likes giving the ball away. UCF set a school record for fewest turnovers in a season with just 15, while Ball State had only 16 giveaways. The Knights' Murray has gone 386 straight carries without a fumble. UCF was much better than Ball State this year at forcing turnovers, led by ball-hawking safety and C-USA defensive player of the year Kemal Ishmael, who had three interceptions and three forced fumbles this season. Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning was intercepted four times in losses to Clemson and Northern Illinois. In a game where every possession could matter, turnovers could turn the tide.