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UCF's Smith will be a target for Herd

Oct. 30, 2007 @ 11:59 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Central Florida was the top topic of Mark Snyder's Tuesday press conference. Put it another way, Kevin Smith was the top topic of Mark Snyder's Tuesday press conference.

UCF hardly is a one-player football show, but it was tough to get away from the nation's No. 2 rusher during the Marshall University head coach's 20-minute gathering with the media. The junior tailback has accounted for nearly half of his team's total offense, leading the Golden Knights within a half game Conference USA's East Division lead.

Limiting Smith to modest totals is priority one entering Saturday's matchup. Marshall (1-7, 1-3) and UCF (5-3, 3-1) kick off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Bright House Networks Stadium. CSS will televise the game.

Smith, a career-long road grater, averages 30 carries a game this season. He's rushed for 1,260 yards and 16 touchdowns on 240 handoffs, gaining 5.2 yards a carry. Combined with 146 yards and another score on 13 receptions, Smith totals 1,406 yards of offense; UCF has amassed 3,166 as a team.

"They're going to try to run Kevin Smith," said Snyder. "He's a good football player. They've been running him for three years now and I think everything's coming together for him right now."

Snyder's counterpart, veteran UCF coach George O'Leary, immediately recognized Smith's workload capacity. Smith rushed for 1,178 yards and nine touchdowns as a true freshman in 2005, and followed with 934 yards and seven scores last season.

In a telling statistic, Smith is just nine carries shy of his single-season high. He's coming off a 43-carry marathon in Sunday night's 34-17 victory at Southern Miss.

Thundering Herd players expect more of the same this weekend.

"I don't think it's going to be too hard for him to do it on Saturday," Marshall defensive tackle Byron Tinker said. "We have to be ready for that."

"That's why coach O'Leary is winning," Snyder said. "He's able to control the line of scrimmage, play good defense and get good, solid special teams."

Smith-based discussion provided the theme of Snyder's press conference. Highlights included:

"He's a big back that's developed some vision. (He) can make cuts for a big guy. ... He can take the ball outside too," Snyder said, offering a scouting report.

"He wanted a shot and coach O'Leary gave him a shot, and he's proving to everybody who didn't recruit him that they probably should've. ... I knew of him. A bunch of us missed on him," Snyder said of Smith's limited scholarship offers.

As for Smith's apparent added bulk, Snyder said, "I agree with that. He looks better on film. We had a chance to see him down at our conference meetings and it looks like he's bigger."

Smith raced 80 yards through N.C. State's defense on the season's opening play. He has 15 gains of at least 22 yards this year and ranks eighth among active players with 3,372 career rushing yards. Because of those stats and more, Smith is the undisputed top topic this week.

"I hope that two or three years from now everybody's talking about our guys too," Snyder said of his own running backs, paying possibly the highest of many compliments to Smith.