After multiple postponements, host UCF and SMU finally will get together for their American Athletic Conference opener Wednesday night in Orlando, Fla.
UCF (3-1) and SMU (2-2) originally were scheduled to meet Saturday, but that was changed to Sunday in anticipation of Hurricane Ian. The game was then moved to Wednesday after the storm ravaged Florida.
With his team having to travel and in need of some recovery time, Mustangs coach Rhett Lashlee said his squad benefitted from the delay.
“It gave us maybe 36 to 48 hours for the guys a chance to catch their breath, not only physically but mentally,” Lashlee said. “Like we said last week, we’re beat up, so one of the positives is getting an extra few days maybe to try to get a little healthier.”
Lashlee views the conference schedule as a “new season” after his team came away with losses to Maryland (34-27) and TCU (42-34) the previous two games.
“We’ve got a really good league,” he said. “It’s wide open and we want to get off to a good start. Our goal is to try to be one of the two teams left, after those eight games, (that is) still in it.”
The only blemish on the Knights’ season so far is a 20-14 setback to Louisville at home Sept. 9. They bounced back with consecutive victories, including a 27-10 win over Georgia Tech on Sept. 24, when quarterback John Rhys Plumlee ran for a team-high 100 yards and a touchdown to guide the Knights.
“Obviously, the game we lost, we had an opportunity to win,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said. “I really think we’re getting better as a team. I know we’re getting better.”
Malzahn and Lashlee have a relationship that dates back to when Malzahn coached high school football and Lashlee was his quarterback. Lashlee later joined Malzahn’s staff as an assistant at Springdale (Ark.) High School and also was an assistant under Malzahn at Arkansas State and Auburn.
“(Lashlee) is one of the smarter coaches I’ve ever been around, been able to work with,” Malzahn said. “He’s very good with players and one of best offensive minds in college football.”
Lashlee said he spoke on the phone with Malzahn last week to make sure everyone was safe.
“I think they’ll be ready to go and so will we,” Lashlee said.