Before the season, it was clear that the Navy game was going to be UCF Football's biggest test in the conference season: A road game against an experienced, hungry, disciplined, championship-level team.
Consider that test passed.
UCF withstood Navy's triple-option en route to a 31-21 victory, and in the process, set a school record for the best start in history at 6-0. It wasn't easy, but they got the job done, and the Knights now stand on the cusp of a historic season.
Here's UCF's cut:
The confidence. This was the Knights' lowest-scoring outing of the year. It was on the road. McKenzie Milton got hurt. The Knights blew a couple of opportunities to take a substantial lead in the first half and allowed Navy, ever opportunistic, to hang around deep into the fourth.
Yet, the team's confidence never broke, even when some of us saw ours start to disintegrate:
Here comes Navy. This is what they do. They stay close and then they wear you down. FB Dive gets a first d... https://t.co/MqBUSKoBB8— Black & Gold Banneret (@UCF_Banneret) October 21, 2017
For every drive Navy had, UCF answered by going to their bread and butter, #UCFast:
And #UCFierce, which we'll show a bit later.
The run defense. Navy led the nation averaging nearly 400 yards per game on the ground coming in. To be fair, they ran the ball effectively, but not nearly as much as they had hoped against UCF's defense.
The Mids ran for 248 yards total, well below their season average, on 59 attempts.
Zach Abey, Navy's outstanding quarterback and the second-leading rusher in the nation. was forced out of the game with an injury, although he had already picked up 126 yards by then. Still, this was the UCF defense's masterpiece so far, as they also forced three turnovers, and despite getting burned on a few passes (somehow Navy does that on occasion), they managed to bend but not break and put a stop to Navy's rugby-like offensive scheme enough for the offense to do its thing.
Credit to the scout team for the week's preparation:
Who is that under center? pic.twitter.com/ECoiHFdYCw— Gerrod Lambrecht (@GerrodLambrecht) October 17, 2017
The running game. McKenzie Milton had a rather pedestrian day (15/23 for 233 yards, a TD and a pick) and was hurt in the game to boot. So the running game had to take up some of the slack in order to keep Navy from completely dominating the game with the triple-option.
They did more than that. UCF picked up 247 yards on the ground against a defense that averaged giving up in the mid-100s for the season.
The high point was Adrian Killins, who surely caught the attention of @TJ_LSUDad with his 79-yarder in the third.
We told you this was a running offense.
The Turning Point
UCF was up just 24-21 in the fourth when McKenzie Milton threw an ill-advised interception to Micah Thomas, who returned the ball to the Navy 45. Suddenly, Navy was in business.
Faced with a 3rd and 5 at the UCF 38, Navy ran their customary option left. Then this happened:
"OH WHAT A HIT!"— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) October 22, 2017
Ladies and gentlemen, we give you...BAM! pic.twitter.com/p5Y8PrCFdI
Moore got lit up earlier in the game on a 75-yard touchdown pass. But on this occasion, he lit up Navy back Darryl Bonner, and gave the Knights the football with 7:07 left.
Seven plays, 54 yards and 3:37 later, Otis Anderson ended the scoring with a ten-yard touchdown run, and Navy was done.
Stat of the Night
Stat time: @UCF_Football offense leads the nation in scoring and is averaging 6.3 TDs a game— UCF Marc Daniels (@ucf_marcdaniels) October 22, 2017
And this is despite its lowest point total of the year in Annapolis. The Knights are lapping the field on offense this year. It's something to watch. We might never see something this fun again, so take it in.
Be careful what you wish for, Austin Peay.