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Knee-Jerk Reactions: UCF 56, South Carolina State 10

The John Rhys Plumlee era starts with a win

#10 John Rhys Plumlee scores a rushing touchdown in the first quarter against South Carolina State.
Noah Goldberg

After many months of anticipation, the UCF Knights opened up their 2022 season as a member of the American Athletic Conference with a lopsided 56-10 win over the South Carolina State Bulldogs. You can call the 2022 season a number of things. It’s UCF’s swan song as a member of the American Athletic Conference. It’s the UCF Revenge Tour. It’s Knights football. It’s knee-jerk reaction time.

The John Rhys Plumlee era begins

NCAA Football: South Carolina State at Central Florida
UCF QB John Rhys Plumlee
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

After a QB battle between Ole Miss transfer John Rhys Plumlee and incumbent Mikey Keene created factions within the fan base that would have made for a nice remake of West Side Story, head coach Gus Malzahn named Plumlee the starter and he now has his first game as a UCF Knight under his belt.

Plumlee had a good game statistically, throwing for 308 yards and four touchdowns on 20/31 passing while running 15 times for 86 yards and another touchdown. He showed a good rapport with Alabama transfer Javon Baker. Baker had a team-high five catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. He was also targeted a team-high nine times but did drop a couple of passes.

NCAA Football: South Carolina State at Central Florida
UCF WR Javon Baker
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Stats aside, this game was far from perfect.

Plumlee was hit for a sack and the ball hit one of his linemen in the helmet. The problem was that the lineman was behind him and it was scooped up by the Bulldogs and if it wasn’t for Ryan O’Keefe chasing them down, would have scored. It helped that Plumlee was trying to chase the ball down too and would-be blockers were distracted, which allowed O’Keefe to make the play down at the 2-yard line. UCF ended up with a goal-line stand, which resulted in a field goal.

Plumlee also needs to rethink his running style. On more than one occasion, he lowered his shoulder into hits instead of sliding. This could potentially lead to an injury. Also, Plumlee had a tendency to throw the homerun ball into coverage. On multiple plays, the receiver had double coverage. Against a better defense, these could lead to turnovers.

The defense was dominant

The defense was dominant, allowing a paltry 91 yards of total offense and holding South Carolina State to 2/16 on third down. The Bulldogs had nine total first downs and only three plays of double-digit gains, including a Shaquan Davis 26-yard touchdown catch from Corey Fields, the only touchdown scored by South Carolina State.

Leading the way in tackles was transfer portal product linebacker Walter Yates III with 7 tackles, including 1 tackle for loss. He was followed by fellow linebacker Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste, who had 5 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss. UCF ended up with 10 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and an interception.

NCAA Football: South Carolina State at Central Florida
UCF LB Walter Yates III
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The Knights showed dominance at each third of the field, but the Knight position, which is a linebacker/defensive back hybrid role, deserves extra attention. Starter Justin Hodges and backup Nikai Martinez were on fire, each getting a sack on the day. It seemed wherever the play was, they were nearby.

The offensive line? Not so much

There were questions going into the season with the offensive line. The depth was a problem last year and is still a problem this year. The team had to bring in a couple of transfer portal plugs to make up for losing two starters as well. I’m not sure if it was nerves or what, but Tylan Grable had a rough day at left tackle. As a result, the team had to adjust how they ran the ball. On the right side, they could run up the guard and tackle gaps, but on the left side, they had to run outside the tackle unless they lined up a tight end for extra blocking.

The struggles of the left side also forced Plumlee to run more to the right. When he hung around, things happened, including a sack and fumble that South Carolina State nearly scored on. The line is only as good as their weakest player, so they’re going to need to get better and fast before Louisville exploits the weakness.

The special teams were even worse

This was a rough day for the special teams.

Aside from another missed field goal from Daniel Obarski, which is a semi-regular occurrence, other parts of the special teams did not play well. On multiple returns that would have had UCF starting beyond their own 40 yard-line, the Knights were called back due to a penalty. A would-be Xavier Townsend punt return for a touchdown was called back due to a penalty. The Knights inexplicably had no one in the guard spot on the line and allowed an Andrew Osteen punt to be blocked, leading to a Bulldogs touchdown. The Knights also gave up a first down on a well-executed fake punt early in the game. At least four of UCF’s ten penalties came on special teams.

While the Knights did have a blocked punt for a touchdown, SCSU punter Dyson Roberts did everything in his power to get it blocked.

Uniform review

NCAA Football: South Carolina State at Central Florida
UCF’s first game with the new uniforms
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

UCF debuted its new generation of uniforms. I had some concerns going in regarding the Pegasus and the elimination of the TV numbers. Those concerns were well founded that while the uniform as a whole was very clean, it was missing something. The Pegasus blends enough into the rest of the uniform that when panned out, the uniform had a large area that was just barren. Either having the Pegasus be the same color as the numbers or adding TV numbers would have solved this problem. As I mentioned when the uniforms were unveiled, the stars on the pants are forgettable.

Stat Leaders

UCF: John Rhys Plumlee: 20/31 for 308 yards, 4 TD, 0 Int
SCSU: Corey Fields: 5/15 for 42 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int

UCF: John Rhys Plumlee: 15 carries for 86 yards, 1 TD
SCSU: Tyrece Nick: 6 carries for 28 yards, 0 TD

UCF: Javon Baker: 5 catches for 84 yards, 1 TD
SCSU: Shaquan Davis: 2 catches for 35 yards, 1 TD

Game Notes

  • UCF leads the series 4-0.
  • This was quarterback John Rhys Plumlee’s first touchdown pass since October 31, 2020, and his first completion since September 11, 2021.
  • The 304 yards and four touchdowns are personal bests for Plumlee.
  • Punter Andrew Osteen moves into 3rd place in school history with 7,176 punt yards, passing Charlie Pierce (7,111). Osteen is still second in school history in punting average (42.2yds).
  • Kicker Daniel Obarski had eight extra points, which gives him 109 for his career and moves him to 7th in school history ahead of Matt Prater and Nick Cattoi (108).
  • Sorry it’s not my best, but I was too busy killing it on Black and Gold Banneret’s first watch-along and then Knightshift.