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Knee-Jerk Reactions: UCF 44, Houston 21

The Knights' defense got the sweet end of Halloween

UCF RB Otis Anderson
UCF Athletics

In what was expected to be a shootout on both sides, we got a trick instead of a treat, but the UCF Knights scored 20 points in a row in the first half en route to a 44-21 win over the Houston Cougars to keep their hopes alive for an American Athletic Conference championship.

Three days after the 20th anniversary of UCF’s win over Alabama, UCF donned a new uniform combination, reminiscent of their 1996-2003 with a gold helmet, white jersey, and gold pant combo. With UCF having their first game on ESPN+ and overwhelming negative feelings about the production quality, you won’t find a drop in quality here. It’s knee-jerk reaction time.

(Ignore the dog going insane when a trick or treater stopped by. She’s all talk.)

Handicapping the defense

The UCF defense has been much maligned all year. To add on, the defense was handicapped by having five impact players not make the trip. Those five were Kenny Charlton, Kenny Turnier, Eric Mitchell, Antwan Collier, and Brandon Moore. Moore has been out all season recovering from a knee injury from 2019, but the other four are all starters. Collier was arrested Thursday after being pulled over with a loaded firearm and driving on a suspended license. The others were held out as a team decision. As a result, Landon Woodson, Cam Goode, Tatum Bethune, and Derek Gainous all got the call to start.

UCF LB Tatum Bethune
UCF Athletics

Going into the game, it was expected to be a shootout, even more so with so many defensive starters out. That’s how it played out though. The Knights defense played some inspired football, containing the Cougars to 434 total yards, a little under their average of 444 yards. The Cougars never really looked comfortable on offense, with their only points in the first half coming on a scoop-and-score fumble recovery when Dillon Gabriel was sacked early in the first. The Cougars in the second half fared better as they were able to keep up more with the Knights, but fell below their scoring average of 37 points a game.

Offensive meatloaf

Meatloaf is that kind of dish in that you can have it three dozen times, each time is different, and each one is good.

A good team takes what the opposing team gives them and tweaks things to fit their needs. The Knights offensive line struggled badly in pass coverage, leading to Dillon Gabriel being sacked six times, including the aforementioned fumble. This caused Gabriel to get happy feet and he started throwing off his back foot, which negatively impacted his accuracy in the second half. When the offensive line was able to buy him some protection and maintain the pocket, he was lethal, connecting on multiple deep routes, including a pair of touchdown passes to Texas native Ryan O’Keefe. It’s weird to say that Gabriel had an “off” day by only throwing for 328 yards, but he was 19/33 passing and he took a multitude of hard hits, including a few later in the game that had him slow to get up.

UCF RB Bentavious Thompson
UCF Athleics

With the passing protection not at its finest, the UCF offense changed its seasoning blend and went with a running attack. The style and technique used in running and pass blocking differs. Pass blocking is more defensive. It’s about lateral agility and protecting the quarterback, buying enough time for him to throw the ball. Rush blocking is about explosiveness, creating holes for the running backs to work with. Coming into the game, Houston boasted the best running defense in the American, giving up only 105 yards a game. To give some perspective on how well that worked out for Houston, Greg McCrae eclipsed that by himself. The Knight ran for a whopping 353 yards and a 6.9 yards per carry average. Led by Otis Anderson who gashed the Cougars defense for 170 yards and a touchdown, Greg McCrae added 107 yards and a touchdown along with 87 yards and a touchdown from Bentavious Thompson.

Addressing some elephants

Like I said last week, while winning is a great panacea on the surface, there is still work to do. Some work was more expected than others.

Obviously, the biggest one in the room is the Antwan Collier situation. While coach Josh Heupel will address it later in the week, it doesn’t take away that it had a profound impact on the game. The defense played an inspired game, but the lack of depth showed later in the game as the defense tired and Houston started moving the ball more in the second half. We will get more clarity about the validity of the charges. The other players were held out of the game due to their response to police, which was recorded on body cameras. It isn’t known yet if there will be any further punitive damage against these other players. That will probably be addressed by Heupel. With UCF having a bye week next week, the coaching staff will have plenty of time to not only assess what these players did wrong, but what their replacements did right on the field. Let’s not kid ourselves. The replacement starters were able to take advantage of the playing time to audition for more playing time.

UCF K Daniel Obarski
Photo courtesy UCF Athletics

It was good for Daniel Obarski to get some work today. The maligned kicker has had a rough go at it since missing the winning kick against Memphis. Obarski went 3/4 on his field goals with a long of 38 yards. His lone miss was one that he probably should have made, but you have to start somewhere. He’ll still continue to get the call, but I would bet money the coaching staff is going to look long and hard at other viable options too in the offseason.

Stat Leaders

UCF: Dillon Gabriel: 19/33 for 328 yards, 2 TD, 0 Int
Houston: Clayton Tune: 21/41 for 263 yards, 1 TD, 2 Int

UCF: Otis Anderson: 16 carries for 170 yards, 1 TD
Houston: Kyle Porter: 13 carries for 52 yards, 1 TD

UCF: Jaylon Robinson: 5 catches for 107 yards, 0 TD
Houston: Nathaniel Dell: 6 catches for 88 yards, 1 TD

Game Notes

  • In the last 44 games for UCF, they have had 42 games of 30 points or more. The Knight have also scored at least 24 points for 45 consecutive game, which leads the nation.
  • Dillon Gabriel has passed for a touchdown in 19 straight games.
  • Gabriel passed for 300 or more yards for the 10th time in his career, which is good for 6th all time at UCF.
  • Gabriel’s 19 completions gives him 403 on his career, which puts him at 8th all time at UCF, passing Justin Holman.
  • UCF has had at least one passing and one rushing touchdown for 45 straight games. This streak leads the nation.
  • UCF had two running backs (Otis Anderson, Greg McCrae) eclipse the 100 yard rushing mark. It is the first time it’s been done since Kevin Smith and Jason Peters did it in 2006.
  • Greg McCrae scored his 24th rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter, which ties him with Daunte Culpepper for sixth best in school history.
  • McCrae now has 6 games of 100 yards rushing or more, which ties him with Ronnie Weaver and Adrian Killins for 10th all time at UCF.
  • Richie Grant’s interception gives him 10 for his career, which ties Josh Robinson for 5th most in school history.
  • UCF now leads the series 7-3 against Houston.
  • Sorry this isn’t my best. I’ll try harder next time.