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Injuries Pile Up for UCF in Victory over East Carolina

The Knights’ homecoming game was a triumphant yet painful experience.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Central Florida
Out of all the injuries UCF suffered vs. East Carolina, running back Greg McCrae’s seemed to be the most concerning.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The result was never in doubt. Even with their second-half struggles continuing, the UCF Knights didn’t have much trouble with the East Carolina Pirates on Saturday night.

It was one of those games where the Knights were expected to romp, and they pretty much did. Thus, you hoped they would be able to escape this uncompetitive contest relatively unscathed. They did not.

Now, six days before a truly challenging game at Temple, the program that is known for going fast is probably wishing that time would slow down. They will take and need all the time they can get to heal up. Here is a run-through of Saturday’s major maladies, all of which occurred in the first quarter.

11:45: Adrian Killins Jr. takes a jet sweep for a couple of yards before being tackled by a few Pirates. It’s difficult to see what exactly happened to him, but he gets up signaling to the coaching staff that he needs to come out of the game. That’s the last we saw of him in this game (but not the last we saw of him actually on the field. More on that in a bit).

Afterwards, Josh Heupel did say Killins suffered an ankle injury, which was the most information the head coach divulged about any of the wounded.

3:53: The UCF offensive line blocks low and to the right on a wide receiver screen, and left guard Cole Schneider comes up grabbing his left leg or hip. The replays look pretty innocuous, but Schneider needed a lot of help to get off the field. Shortly thereafter, the TV broadcast would show him riding a stationary bike, but the pain he’s feeling is evident. He was out of uniform for the second half.

3:12: Three plays later, Samuel Jackson, who moved from left tackle to left guard after Schneider’s injury, goes down grabbing his left ankle. He clearly gets rolled up on from behind by an ECU defender. He was seen walking around with a slight limp afterward.

Redshirt freshman Edward Collins took over at left tackle while true frosh Matthew Lee, who is listed as the Knights’ backup center, filled the void at left guard. And look at the hole they created for Bentavious Thompson here!

1:00: Greg McCrae’s right leg gets trapped by some falling players while he is trying to pass block. He gets twisted as he falls to the ground and immediately grabs his right knee. He stayed down for a while. Killins came to McCrae’s side while the trainers tended to him on the field.

McCrae would eventually walk off, and you can see him telling the trainers that his right leg got rolled up on from the side. He would later return to the UCF sideline sporting a full brace over his right leg. Thompson saw a lot more snaps and carries with McCrae out and scored that 32-yard touchdown just two plays later.

The Knights led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter, but you would be within reason to describe these first 15 minutes as great and awful.

A handful of defensive players — Chris DeLoach, Nate Evans, Tre’mon Morris-Brash, Kenny Turnier — spent a moment or two down on the turf as well, but they all returned to the game. I didn’t see how safety Antwan Collier got hurt in the closing minutes, but he was able to walk off without assistance.

Heupel, when asked about all of the injuries after the game, said: “Just one of those nights in a physical game. This is a physical game. We’ve got to get those guys healthy. We’ve got a big one Saturday against Temple.”

But all of this comes in addition to the continued absence of defensive end Randy Charlton, who missed his third consecutive game. He has apparently been ill for the last few weeks but did return to practice this week and was on UCF’s sideline for this game. He was joined by injured cornerback Brandon Moore, who served as one of the Knights’ captains.

And it doesn’t stop there: Starting cornerback Nevelle Clarke was also unavailable. That was totally unexpected, but his father spilled the beans almost immediately after the contest went final:

A bunch of people then asked Norman if his son will play versus Temple. The typical response was “He’ll be fine.” Make of that what you will.

All of this reminds me of something you may disagree with, but it’s a thought I have held for the past year or so:

UCF has been pretty fortunate during this run when it comes to injuries.

I know the immediate reaction to that sentence is going to be something in the vein of “BUT MILTON!” And yes, I fully understand that UCF has had to move forward, both this year and last, without one of the best players in college football. And that’s to say nothing about the obviously traumatic nature of his injury, which trumps its on-field impact in the grand scheme.

But think back to 2017. Which integral players did UCF miss due to injury?

Running back Juwon Hamilton broke his ankle that September and was done for the year. Left tackle Aaron Evans missed the Peach Bowl because his bad back just couldn’t go any further. Tyler Hudanick dealt with left knee issues. Dedrion Bacote-Sweat broke his leg in the season opener.

Is there anything I’m missing that honestly made a difference? That’s not a rhetorical question. You can let me know in the comments.

In 2018, besides Milton, Aaron Robinson’s concussion was a very scary start to the year. Linebacker Pat Jasinski sat out most of the game at Memphis due to an injury but returned the following week. Hudanick’s knee continued to be a problem and ultimately forced him to stop playing football once the Fiesta Bowl was done. Freshman corner Dyllon Lester tore an ACL.

Again, anything that I missed that made a difference?

The point is that over the past two seasons, the Knights were able to stay pretty healthy, relatively speaking. I know people on Twitter were freaking out after seeing player after player hobble off on Saturday night, but do understand that most of the time, injuries occur simply through bad luck. Things that can’t be prevented in the natural flow of an unforgiving game, like players falling on the back of your leg while you’re trying to block someone.

This year, the bad injury luck has arrived more often, and it peaked just in time for homecoming.

The hope is that some of the injured were held out simply because the score was 28-3 early in the second quarter and there was no need to risk them. But could UCF be without two star running backs and two starting offensive linemen at Temple? Possibly. We’ll try to find out during the week, but considering how Heupel and Co. treat injury information like state secrets, I’m not getting my hopes up.

Add that group to a list that already contains Milton, Moore, Charlton and Clarke and, yeah, the Knights have had a lot of bad injury luck.

Coming out of their bye week, we needed to see how this team would respond from its most recent loss. For the most part, it was positive.

Coming out of this East Carolina game, there is only one thing the Knights seem to need right now: Another bye.