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UCF faces SEC challenge

UCF receiver Rannell Hall leaps to catch a pass from quarterback Blake Bortles. Hall picked up 63 yards receiving and 93 yards on kickoff returns in the Knights' 33-20 win over Florida International University.

UCF receiver Rannell Hall leaps to catch a pass from quarterback Blake Bortles. Hall picked up 63 yards receiving and 93 yards on kickoff returns in the Knights' 33-20 win over Florida International University.

Isaac Babcock

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The Knights will have their work cut out for them on statistics alone against the Missouri Tigers on the gridiron on Saturday. The favored Knights (2-1) and their balanced offensive attack will face a nebulous Missouri (2-2) offense that’s vacillated between run- and pass-heavy in four games this season.

UCF has consistently ranked in the top 20 teams in pass defense, and that’s no different heading into their fourth game of the season. But Missouri, in its first year in the Southeastern Conference, presents one of the biggest implicit challenges for the Knights.

Against SEC teams, UCF has struggled mightily, amassing a 2-13 record. In their two wins, against Alabama and Georgia, the Knights prevailed by a combined margin of six points.

The Knights will need to guard the ball well to avoid the turnover nightmares of last season. Fumbles and interceptions combined to factor heavily into the Knights’ six of seven losses last season that were by a margin of a touchdown or less. Missouri’s eight fumble recoveries in just four games have helped swing their scoring margins significantly.

But UCF has shored up its own turnover-making abilities this year, forcing eight fumbles and two interceptions so far.

Thankfully for the Knights, the hands of receiver/punt returner J.J. Worton have gotten stickier in 2012, helping to erase some of the more infamous mistakes from last season that cost the Knights big wins.

But it’ll be a young backfield that’s truly tested by Missouri linebacker Andrew Wilson, who has forced four fumbles this season. Quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson will have to prove they can keep their composure under pursuit. Johnson has been Bortles’ go-to running man with 187 yards on the ground so far.

The Knights may be able to show off in the air against Missouri, as the Tigers have given up big yardage against their more formidable opponents, including Georgia, which threw for 242 yards on Sept. 8. Bortles has averaged more than 220 yards per game in the air.

It all kicks off at noon on Saturday, televised on Fox Sports Networks.