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Knee-Jerk Reactions: #7 Cincinnati 36, UCF 33

The Knights fight valiantly but fall to seventh ranked Bearcats

Cincinnati vs UCF
UCF WR Marlon Williams
Photo by Conor Kvatek/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

Before the season started, the UCF Knights vs Cincinnati Bearcats game was circled on the calendar. Both teams were ranked in the pre-covid preseason polls and was viewed as the best matchup in the American Athletic Conference. It was a game reminiscent of the 1995 World Series where one of the best offensive teams went against one of the best defensive teams. The result was the same. The game did not disappoint as the Bearcats came back from an early and late deficit to hold on to a 36-33 win. It’s knee-jerk reaction time.

The unstoppable force vs. the immovable object

This was a matchup of opposites. UCF’s offense has been on a record setting pace for most of the season and tops in the country. Cincinnati has one of the top defenses in the country. Coming into the game, the Bearcats did not give up more than 20 points in a game. UCF had not scored less than 26 points.

Something had to give.

UCF attacked quickly to open the scoring and then took advantage of being the nation’s leader in turnovers by getting another and scoring. However, Cincinnati’s defense settled down and forced the Knights off their game. While the Knights had pockets of offense efficiency, the Bearcats defense had a definitive victory over the Knights offense, limiting UCF to only 359 yards. This then left the game in the hands of Cincinnati’s offense versus UCF’s defense. The Bearcats were able to generate 482 of offense, with Desmond Ridder throwing for over 300 yards. The defense was not able to get any takeaways while Dillon Gabriel threw a costly interception in the fourth quarter that ultimately gave Cincinnati a lead they would not give up.

Cincinnati v Central Florida
UCF RB Otis Anderson
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

I’d like to point out that there were no 100 yard rushers or receivers at all in this game. Marlon Williams and Gerrid Doaks came close with 97 apiece, but no one broke that threshold.

Winning in the trenches

In the Black and Gold Banneret Roudtable leading up to this game, I said the game would be decided in the trenches. UCF’s offensive line was going to have to rise up against a very talented Cincinnati defensive line.

They did not.

UCF’s offensive line struggled and the team could not develop a running game. The line also struggled to consistently give Dillon Gabriel time to throw, but they did better with pass protection compared to run explosion. The Bearcats defensive line was able to cause more disruption compared to UCF’s. As a result, Cincinnati ended up with more running yards and passing yards compared to UCF. Their offense had no turnovers lost. While UCF had more tackles for loss 7-6, UCF’s defensive line output came in spurts while Cincinnati maintained a high intensity. That intensity rendered Greg McCrae completely irrelevant. Otis Anderson had to fight for his yards and Dillon Gabriel had to tuck and run on multiple occasions due to excellent coverage downfield.

The season is not over

The conference championship game might be out of reach, but the season isn’t over. Next week is the War on I-4 in Tampa. The Knights should be heavily favored and there’s a trophy on the line. UCF has the opportunity to tie the series up with the Bulls. After that, until we hear otherwise, bowl season is still a thing. There is a good chance the Knights end up in a bowl in-state, so there is still football to be played.

Cincinnati vs UCF
UCF WR Amari Johnson
Photo by Conor Kvatek/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

There is also a lot to be hopeful for in 2021. The younger players getting extended exposure on the field this season will be that much better next year. That’s not to discount the quality of play they’ve already shown so far. The players who stepped up for the dismissed four have played some very inspired ball and it’s only fair to assume there will be developmental progress in the offseason. They need support the rest of this season though.

A man of the people

A little something new this game was that we opened up the Knee-Jerk Reactions to fan questions. Tune into Knight Shift after the game on the Black and Gold Banneret YouTube channel. You can also get the link on @UCF_Banneret on Twitter.

One question was in regards to Josh Heupel changing their gameplan and having a Plan B.

UCF’s best drives were the first drive of the game and the first drive of the second half. These tend to be more scripted plays, but also give teams a first taste at an offensive scheme. The Knight were able to move the ball well and score on both drives with production dropping off in subsequent series. The second offensive possession had a short field off a muffed punt, which Cincinnati was not prepared for. The Bearcats defense adapted quickly and used their physicality to disrupt UCF’s receivers into being out of position and making drops.

Temple v Central Florida
UCF HC Josh Heupel
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

In the second half, UCF converted from their traditional big play offense to a more West Coast offense with short dropbacks and quick throws. Gabriel connected on his first five passes of the drive with three step drops and quick releases. Again, the Bearcats adapted quickly and the Knights struggled to create a Plan C. The Bearcats were just a better team.

If you have questions in the future, the Black and Gold Banneret and I want to hear from you.

Stat Leaders

Passing
UCF: Dillon Gabriel: 26/49 for 243 yards, 3 TD, 1 Int
Cincinnati: Desmond Ridder: 21/32 for 338 yards, 2 TD, 0 Int

Rushing
UCF: Otis Anderson: 12 carries for 53 yards, 0 TD
Cincinnati: Gerrid Doaks: 28 carries for 97 yards, 0 TD

Receiving
UCF: Marlon Williams: 8 catches for 97 yards, 2 TD
Cincinnati: Leonard Taylor: 6 catches for 76 yards, 1 TD

Game Notes

  • In the last 47 games for UCF, they have had 45 games of 30 points or more.
  • UCF has scored 24 points in 47 straight games. This is the second longest streak in the country.
  • Dillon Gabriel has passed for a touchdown in 21 straight games. This is fourth in school history.
  • Gabriel threw his first interception in 229 attempts. This is second most in school history. Blake Bortles has the record with 232 attempts.
  • UCF has had at least one passing and one rushing touchdown for 47 straight games. This streak leads the nation.
  • Greg McCrae scored his 27th touchdown in the first quarter, which ties Alex Haynes for fourth on the school list.
  • Marlon Williams had 8 receptions which gives him 157 on his career, passing Gabriel Davis for tenth and tying Rocky Ross for ninth.
  • Williams’ 97 yards gives him 2,260 on his career, passing Charles Lee for 10th place at UCF.
  • Williams’ first half touchdown gives him 18 on his career, giving him sole possession for ninth in UCF history.
  • UCF is now tied in the series 3-3 against Cincinnati.
  • Sorry this isn’t my best. I’ll try harder next time.