Auburn’s defense respects Central Florida’s offense

UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton  has led the Knights to the top scoring offense in FBS (49.4 points per game) this season.

UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton has led the Knights to the top scoring offense in FBS (49.4 points per game) this season.

Yes, Auburn knows Central Florida’s players are fast.

Yes, Auburn knows the Knights’ offense has some unique concepts.

Yes, Auburn respects UCF and its quest to be the only FBS team that can finish 13-0.

No, Auburn isn’t overly concerned heading into Monday’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“When you see all those statistics and you see all those numbers, like No. 1 offense and they are scoring these many points or these many yards, it's kind of a challenge,” Auburn’s Deshaun Davis said.

“You accept it as a challenge. But by those guys saying at Auburn, especially on defense, we have a standard that we play to and no matter who we play, what their numbers are, we have execution-wise a goal that we set each and every game that we want to reach.”

The Tigers are confident for good reason. Behind a defense that ranks No. 9 in scoring (17.3 points per game) and No. 14 in total defense (312.3 yards per game), Auburn has beaten two previously undefeated teams in Georgia and Alabama.

Auburn didn’t give away too much regarding what it may do to try to slow the Knights. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said the Tigers just need to focus on what they do and that no player is going to be asked to defend two gaps and that no player is going to be asked to cover two players. Not helpful in terms of news, but it has been working.

Some of Central Florida’s opponents have tried interesting things to keep quarterback McKenzie Milton and company off the field. Most have tried running the ball, something Auburn can certainly do with Kerryon Johnson, who has rushed for more than 1,300 yards this season.

South Florida did something some of the Knights said they’ve never seen, and seem doubtful that Auburn will try: the Bulls replaced two inside linebackers with defensive backs to try to match the Knights’ speed at the skill positions.

The Tigers are going to be a bit more than any American Athletic Conference opponent the Knights have faced this season. They know it.

“Auburn's defense, they are probably the best defense we are going to face all year up front,” Milton said. “They are physical, fast, pretty nasty, and the back end, the same. It's going to be a tough challenge for us, but I think we're up for it. I think our guys, they want to send a message to everybody that we can play and we can play with anybody.”

Auburn’s compliments weren’t just the weekly empty platitudes (well-coached, know their schemes) that are typically thrown out each week from Miami to Seattle.

The Tigers said the Knights do run unique concepts. The running game features a lot of misdirection plays. The wide receivers’ route combos include a lot of “picks” or “rubs” designed to force defenders to make decisions.

The offense, something Scott Frost brought from Oregon to UCF and is coordinated by Troy Walters, has scored at least 30 points in every game this season, with Milton finishing as the conference’s player of the year and eighth in Heisman Trophy voting.

“Their coach does a really good job,” Davis said. “He run concepts to attack the holes that you have in your defense. He's a very smart offensive coordinator, and me just watching film, I respect their game and I respect his mindset as a coach.”

Ahead of Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, UCF’s football team visited Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital on Friday morning. UCF will play Auburn at 12:30pm on Jan. 1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Footage provided by Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Communications Team)