ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Texas hasn’t played a football game in Florida for 34 years. The Longhorns return to the Sunshine State on Saturday to help Central Florida mark a milestone.
The Knights will play their first game at a new on-campus stadium after almost three decades of calling the dreary downtown Citrus Bowl home.
No. 6 Texas will also be the highest-ranked opponent Central Florida (1-0) has faced.
Two weeks ago, the Knights out of Conference USA knocked off North Carolina State from the Atlantic Coast Conference. That was a nice win for UCF, which has barely a decade of major college football experience, but the Wolfpack are a long way from being at the Longhorns’ level.
“When you talk about elite teams, Texas is an elite team from an athletics, traditions and overall standpoint,” Knights coach George O’Leary said. “They have won championships and received national recognition. We will have our work cut out for us.”
Texas has played only two regular-season games in Florida — losing to Miami in 1973 and beating Florida in 1940. The school has played three bowl games here, but none since 1965.
Saturday will be the first road game for Texas this season, but the Longhorns have lost only seven in 10 years under coach Mack Brown.
O’Leary and Brown have met three times — when Brown was at North Carolina and O’Leary coaching Georgia Tech — and Brown won twice.
Texas (2-0) has struggled some so far, with a lackluster victory over Arkansas State in the opener and sluggish start last week against TCU. In the second half against TCU, the Longhorns hit their stride, wiping out a 10-0 deficit with 34 straight points.
“They had a week off to prepare,” Brown said of the Knights. “And with our very emotional, tough, physical game with TCU, it will be interesting to see how we respond to a lot of people talking about how well we played instead of people talking about how poor we played.”
Brown said the Longhorns would tweak the offense by mixing up formations and putting quarterback Colt McCoy in fewer shotgun formations. The sophomore is 47-of-71 with three touchdowns and four interceptions this season. McCoy threw only seven picks in 13 games last year, along with a school-record 29 TDs.
“During the first two games, I feel like the other defenses have known that we have a lot of deep threats, and have been kind of taking those away — and those are big, momentum-changing plays,” McCoy said. “Those are big plays that we live by, so we're going to try and work some of those in and chip away at them.”
UCF would seem to be vulnerable to those big plays McCoy is looking for. The Knights gave up 272 yards passing against the Wolfpack.
Texas tailback Jamaal Charles has run for 246 yards and two TDs so, and was the first back in 22 games to reach 100 yards rushing against TCU.
UCF has the nation’s leading rusher in Kevin Smith, who ran for a career-best 217 yards against N.C. State. Smith will face a big, fast defensive front that has limited opponents to 2.5 yards a carry.
“He will be a real test for us,” Brown said.
UCF is a 20-point underdog and in need of a mistake-free effort to hang with Texas.
“I think that we have to go out and play very well,” O’Leary said. “It is as simple as that in all areas — kicking game, specialty teams, and when we get opportunities to put points up on the board, we have to do that.”
Brown was thrilled with his team’s poise in the second half last week, and hopes it will carry over.
“The attitude at halftime was unbelievable with the young kids and coaches. The kids were great. They knew we had played hard and they also knew the mistakes we had made at times,” Brown said.
AP TOP 25 FOOTBALL: No. 6 Texas (2-0) at Central Florida (1-0), 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2) — Brighthouse Networks Stadium