UCF looks for fifth straight over USF in ‘War on I-4’

UCF will be going for a fifth consecutive victory against its neighboring American Athletic Conference colleague Friday afternoon when it hosts South Florida in Orlando in what the athletic departments call the “War on I-4.”

A victory over their struggling rival would give the Knights (7-4, 4-3 AAC) the longest winning streak for either team in the series that began in 2005 and assure them of a plus-.500 conference record for a fourth consecutive season.

USF (2-9, 1-6) has lost four games in a row.

UCF bounced back from a loss at SMU with a 49-17 rout of Connecticut last week. It was the Knights’ fourth victory in their last five games, and now they look to continue building momentum through a bowl game.

They are 5-3 since freshman Mikey Keene took over at quarterback when Dillon Gabriel broke his collarbone late in the loss to Louisville back on Sept. 17. Keene broke out against UConn, completing 23 of 29 passes for 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also scored on a 30-yard run.

“If you look at Mikey, this is going to be his ninth game,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said. “He played his best game, I think, last week and he’s improving each game.

‘You saw with the touchdown on the ground. That’s really a game-changer for us with him moving forward. I think he’s doing a super job leading us.”

USF, meantime, is coming off a 45-14 beatdown at Tulane. The Bulls have not won in more than a month, since their lone conference win, 34-24 over Temple on Oct. 23.

Their performance against the Green Wave was particularly distressing because they had shown some positive signs to start November in losses at home to ranked teams Houston 54-42 and Cincinnati 45-28.

Coach Jeff Scott fired defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer after the loss to the Green Wave, which marked the sixth time this season the Bulls have allowed more than 40 points.

“I made the decision Sunday morning that we really needed to make a change in our defensive coordinator position,” Scott said at his weekly media session. “It was not something I really wanted to do before the end of the season, but I felt like after the last game it was the right time.”

Ernie Sims (linebackers) and Daniel Da Prato (special teams) will serve as coordinators this week.

The teams have split the 12 games in the series. The winning team earns the right to a huge trophy of Interstate-4, which connects Tampa and Orlando, 100 miles apart.