The UCF Knights opened the conference portion of their swan song in the American Athletic Conference with a blowout 41-19 win over the Southern Methodist Mustangs to improve to 4-1 on the season. It’s knee-jerk reaction time.
The Revenge Tour is now 1-1
UCF faced their first real challenge of the year and after a slow start, was able to do just enough to secure the win.
In the first half, UCF’s offense was outclassed by SMU’s. The Knights were outgained 287-145, including a 100-55 edge in rushing, which is normally UCF’s bread and butter. They looked lost on offense outside of UCF’s lone touchdown drive where quarterback John Rhys Plumlee had what was arguably his best pass as a Knight, threading a deep pass to Javon Baker. The running game couldn’t get going and the line could not open up holes. The passing game was out of sync with receivers looking over their wrong shoulder on too many plays. UCF was down 13-10 at halftime.
Head coach Gus Malzahn commented at halftime how the offense needs to produce more and they opened the second half right on cue, taking advantage of a 51-yard catch and run by Baker en route to a 1-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Bowser to retake the lead. On the ensuing drive, RJ Harvey continues to show why he continues to get more playing time with some chunk yardage run. John Rhys Plumlee finished the drive with a 26-yard strike to Ryan O’Keefe.
Normally, UCF has had trouble in the third quarter, but the offense realistically could not have done better, outgaining their first half output 204-145 with two touchdowns versus one. With the 14 point swing, UCF built a 24-13 lead they would not relinquish. In fact, they’d only continue to add to it.
UCF is now 1-1 in their revenge tour. They lost to Louisville previously and still have Cincinnati and Navy still to come.
The defense once again bent but would not break
Much like last week, UCF gave up plenty of yards outside of the redzone, but they really tightened up once their opponent crossed inside the 20. UCF sports the best redzone defense numbers in the country and while SMU went 3/4 in the redzone(counting the garbage time touchdown as time expired), they were limited to 16 points and a failed fourth down conversion. Despite almost 300 yards in the first half, the defense only gave up 13 points.
It’s like FAU all over again, but against a much better team.
The defense clamped down in the second half, giving up zero points and having SMU go 0/4 on third down and 0/3 on fourth down. They even got a safety as a result of the guys below. They did give up more yards in the second half compared to the destruction in Boca Raton, but they still had a bagel on the scoreboard until the very last play of the game with a garbage time touchdown as time expired.
The special teams delivered again
Colton Boomer is a gift.
Aside from being a good kicker who looks like he genuinely loves what he is doing, the special teams has been a completely different unit since he took over for Daniel Obarski as the placekicker. He made his lone field goal attempt of 41 yards and three extra points.
The other big change was having Mitch McCarthy take over punting duties from Andrew Osteen, but today had both punters work. McCarthy had four punts and they had Osteen punt two times when they needed more precision and it paid off as both of Osteen’s punts put SMU in very bad field position.
Osteen’s second punt put the Mustangs at their own 3 yard line. This led to a blindside sack of Tanner Mordecai by Tre’mon Morris Brash for a safety. UCF would use the next possession and score another touchdown.
So how did UCF win?
What a tale of two halves.
Before we do anything, we have to remember the immense scale of this game for the two head coaches. Rhett Lashlee is the ultimate disciple of Gus Malzahn. In the book Malzahn wrote about the no-huddle offense, Lashlee was in it. Why? He was Malzahn’s quarterback and Shiloh Christian High School where he built the no-huddle offense and won a couple of state championships. Lashlee was a GA for Gus at Auburn and for a number of years, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. There is a lot of history here. On one side, you have the pupil who wants to beat the teacher and on the other, you have the teacher who wants to show that the pupil has much to learn. This might have impacted some of the decisions made during the game.
A good offense takes what the defense gives them and SMU focused on the run. No surprise. This forced UCF to go to a more pass-heavy scheme. In the first half, UCF struggled to change their gameplan and balance the scales. During halftime, the team made a commitment to throw the ball and it worked. John Rhys Plumlee showed the confidence and trust to throw slants and other routes. Receivers Javon Baker and Ryan O’Keefe thrived with the more pass-oriented office.
My benchmark for Plumlee is to have a 60% completion rate. He exceeded that by going 20/29 for 316 yards with 2 touchdowns. It broke down to 10/17 for 90 yards in the first half and a near-perfect 10/12 for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns in the second half. That’s a 69% completion rate for the whole game. Sure, he had some throws he’d like to have back and there were times the receivers looked the wrong way for the ball, but the team was able to settle down and find some rhythm. This forced the defense to start to respect the pass and allowed the running game to create some chunk plays.
UCF outscored SMU 31-6 in the second half.
UCF had a couple of unique twists in their uniform for this game. The Knights wore a white shell without a helmet stripe and the block UCF had the state flag within the letter. Also, a One Florida sticker was added as an act of state solidarity in response to Hurricane Ian, which slammed the state last week. The Knights then wear their black tops and white bottoms. A simple look that looks even more simple with no helmet stripe.
UCF: John Rhys Plumlee: 20/29 for 316 yards, 2 TD, 0 Int
SMU: Tanner Mordecai: 28/45 for 295 yards, 0 TD, 1 Int
UCF: Isaiah Bowser: 15 carries for 62 yards, 3 TD
SMU: Velton Gardner: 12 carries for 69 yards, 1 TD
UCF: Javon Baker: 6 catches for 138 yards, 0 TD
SMU: Rashee Rice: 12 catches for 122 yards, 0 TD
- UCF leads the series 9-2.
- Sorry it’s not my best, but I gave up a touchdown on the last play of the game.