When Gus Malzahn met with reporters on March 14, a day before the start of his second spring football camp in Orlando, the UCF coach said his team would focus on development and competition.
Five weeks and 14 practices later, Malzahn is pleased with his team’s performance in the spring, which ended with Saturday’s intrasquad exhibition.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Malzahn said after the game.
Here’s what we learned from spring camp:
It was unclear what Ole Miss John Rhys Plumlee’s transfer would look like throwing the ball around after playing wide receiver last season at his old school.
His athleticism was no secret. UCF fans shared highlights from his long runs against SEC teams when he announced his commitment to the Knights.
Plumlee earned true freshman All-American honors after starting 8 games at quarterback in 2019 at Ole Miss before moving to catcher the next two years.
The Rebels tried to find a way to get him on the field as much as possible by using him as a rusher and wide receiver while SEC second-team winner Matt Corral threw the ball.
Plumlee, however, came to UCF to play quarterback again.
While there is work to be done this summer before the season, Plumlee has shown this spring that he is a more than capable passer and can also be a legitimate threat in the running game.
The Knights worked on a number of aspects of their offense throughout spring camp, like pushing the ball downfield. Plumlee and sophomore Mikey Keene did that and more on Saturday.
The two quarterbacks combined for 471 passing yards, 7 touchdowns and just 1 interception.
Three different receivers – Jaylon Robinson, Kobe Hudson and Amari Johnson – each caught 2 touchdowns and Stephen Martin added another.
“Offensively the expectations are much higher than they were this time last year,” Malzahn said. “They should be.”
Malzahn has made it clear that the quarterback competition between Plumlee and Keene will continue at fall camp, but there’s a good chance the two will see the field next year regardless.
“We’re in really good shape at quarterback,” Malzahn said. “Coming off the spring, I can tell you we can win with these two guys. In fact, we can win a lot of games with both.
On defense, Malzahn said his team has focused on the pass rush this spring.
A key element in putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks in the fall will be redshirt senior defensive end Landon Woodson, who received a rave review from his coach Kenny Ingram last week.
“He’s made tremendous progress,” Ingram said. “It’s not that he’s been bad in the past, but I challenged him to take his game and his game to a high level.”
This improvement was on full display on Saturday when he recorded a team record 3 unofficial sacks. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound defensive end said that kind of performance was all he could ask for in a spring game.
“That’s what I really wanted to focus on – apply [the] coaching and using my technique to be able to get the bag,” Woodson said. “I feel like I did well.”
He hopes to continue like this in the fall.
“My personal goal this season is to get double-digit sacks,” Woodson said last week. “That’s my main goal.”
Opponents totaled 25 sacks for 158 yards against UCF last year. That’s 4 more sacks and 23 more yards than the year before.
With starters Cole Scheider and Marcus Tatum on the pros, Malzahn turned to the NCAA transfer portal for more height.
He found that with 6-foot-10 offensive tackle Ryan Swoboda (Virginia) and 6-foot-7 tackle Tylan Grable (Jacksonville State).
With the combination of adding those two transfers and a full year of development under coach Herb Hand for the returning squad, Malzahn likes where things are at with his offensive line.
“We passed the eye test this year,” Malzahn said. “We looked at the part, we played the part and we went deep.”
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Plus, the winter in the weight room spent with strength and conditioning coach Chris Dawson also helped.
“Coach Dawon did a great job in the weight room,” Malzahn said. “The difference between this year and last year is day and night.”
This success from the offensive line will lead to directing the ball well.
In the spring game, second Johnny Richardson gained 108 yards on just 9 carries while Mark-Antony Richards, Anthony Williams and true freshman Jordan McDonald rushed for over 30 yards apiece.
It all happened while running back Isaiah Bowser, who led the team with 9 rushing touchdowns last year, had the afternoon off.
“I think we’re going to be able to play football against anybody, which is always a great thing,” Malzahn said. “We have a chance to be what I would say really good on the offensive line.”
Email Jason Beede at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @therealBeede.