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Knights itch to start throwing

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


ORLANDO -- By the time you finish reading this, Central Florida will have completed a pass right . . . now.

"When we throw the football, we're looking to have 2.75 seconds, from snap to delivery," coach Mike Kruczek said. "If we can have that, we're gonna rip people."

Hopes are high this season that UCF and its high-powered offense can do exactly that in the program's fourth year at the Division I level.

"I think we're a lot more confident," second-year quarterback Vic Penn said. "We expect more from ourselves. We're going into the season with a great attitude and great confidence.

"There isn't any reason we can't win every game on our schedule."

Well, maybe a few: No. 3 Alabama; No. 11 Virginia Tech, fresh off losing the national championship to Florida State; Georgia Tech and Louisiana Tech, as well.

Still, this season should be far more manageable than the last, when UCF lost to ranked opponents Florida (4), Georgia (9), Georgia Tech (12) and Purdue (22), plus Auburn and Louisiana Tech.

It was a grueling season, the first in four years without All-American Daunte Culpepper under center.

At times the team seemed intimidated against all those ranked teams, playing in all those packed stadiums. When the Knights were competitive, crucial mistakes cost them in upset bids against Georgia and Auburn.

Yet the offense still finished 22nd nationally and 15th in passing, and Penn was 12th in total offense.

Seven starters return from that unit, including prospective All-America center Chris Lorenti. New offensive line coach Robert McFarland was brought in by Kruczek to help reinvigorate the running game with new blocking schemes. And UCF landed its best recruiting class ever with four high school All-Americans.

Which is why expectations for 2000 are so much higher. Just ask those who survived '99.

"Everybody's on their toes, everybody's positive, we don't have any negativity on this team," said wideout Kenny Clark. "In the past couple of camps, everybody's been walking into the locker room with their heads down. Now everybody's playing music, talking about how good we're going to be."

Given a year to fit the pieces together, the offense should be even more prolific than last season, fellow senior wide receiver Tyson Hinshaw said.

"We didn't know then what we know now," he said. "We know each other, we know what's going to happen, we know where we're going to cut. We've practiced it so many times that it's almost scary. It's like second nature to us."

Kruczek hopes a balanced offense will take the load off Penn, who had to carry the team last season when the running game faltered. An All-Southeastern Conference freshman at South Carolina in 1997, he transferred to UCF and took over for Culpepper.

A roll-out, play-action quarterback when he arrived, the 6-foot-1 Penn was transformed into a drop-back passer. He was named the team's offensive MVP after completing 262 of 455 passes for 3,078 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Yet he proved he still could carry the rock: He was the team's fourth-leading rusher with 481 yards and four touchdowns.

"Vic's unbelievable," Lorenti said. "It's amazing a little guy can do what he does."

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