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Knee-Jerk Reactions: UCF 24, Memphis 7

The Citronauts deliver a big win to open the second half of the season

NCAA Football: Memphis at Central Florida
UCF RB Johnny Richardson
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The second half of the 2021 UCF Knights season has begun. First up, the Knights— I mean Citronauts hosted the Memphis Tigers. UCF struck early, cooled off, and then found some rhythm to pull away from the Tigers 24-7. It’s knee-jerk reaction time.

It’s a new season

Forget the Cincinnati game. They’re in another league of talent right now. This is when the second season really begins, which is pretty much what Coach Gus Malzahn said during the latest episode of “Our Time” on ESPN+. If you have not seen this episode or the show at all, you need to. This show has been a great doorway inside the UCF football program that fans don’t get a chance to see. I look forward to each Thursday around lunchtime to catch the next episode.

UCF LS Alex Ward
Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

UCF improves to 4-3 and only needs two more wins for bowl eligibility. With the remaining games being against Tulane, Temple, SMU, UConn, and South Florida, two wins are easily attainable and four wins are a fair expectation. Imagine UCF finishing this injury-riddled year at 8-4 and going to a bowl game. While it’s not the double digit total fans were hoping for when the season started, this would be a great springboard to the bowl season and beyond.

The announced attendance for the game was 39,328. While that was a bit generous of a number, the fans showed up with passion and energy and helped UCF to a season-high six sacks and four takeaways.

The offense continues to struggle to figure things out...

...but the Bowser factor is real.

The Memphis defense had trouble stopping Isaiah Bowser on the ground. He ran for a game high 26 times for 117 yards. Even when UCF abandoned the pass, Bowser was still able to cause the Memphis defense grief and wore them down in the fourth quarter. As a whole, UCF ran the ball 41 times versus 21 passes, outgaining the passing game 215-80. Johnny Richardson had 47 yards on six carries and Ryan O’Keefe had three carries for 41 yards and a touchdown.

UCF WR Ryan O’Keefe
Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While a win is great, it’s not all puppies and rainbows.

The passing game still needs a lot of work, but it’s not all on one person. The wide receivers had a number of ill-timed drops. I think the team needs to revisit the two quarterback system with Mikey Keene and Joey Gatewood. The passing game seems to lack continuity and that may have contributed to some of the unforced errors on this side of the ball. We were reminded why Mikey Keene has shied away from throwing it deep. His deepest pass was overthrown into double coverage and ended up being an interception in the end zone. 80 total passing yards and going 3/12 on third down isn’t going to cut it.

Tackling the tackling problem

As UCF knows all too well, when someone is injured, it’s next man up. Memphis was without their starting quarterback Seth Henigan and Peter Parrish had to step in for his first collegiate action of his career. Parrish is a dual threat quarterback and UCF has historically had trouble with dual threat QBs. While Parrish racked up a lot of yards on offense, 275 to be exact, he was sacked six times and a host of Citronauts made solid open-field tackling. Coach Malzahn was especially impressed with the continual improvement of the defense as they gel and the many near misses from earlier in the year become made plays today.

NCAA Football: Memphis at Central Florida
UCF DL Keenan Hester and Ricky Barber
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The UCF defense was able to avoid giving up big plays as only one play, a 34-yard pass from Parrish to Marcayll Jones, went beyond 20 yards. When Parrish went deep, bad things tended to happen. UCF recorded three interceptions against Parrish, with picks coming in the endzone on multiple occasions. These interceptions required tip drill deflections and helped UCF maintain their lead, one they never relinquished after the opening drive. For the third straight game, the defensive secondary held their own against an offense who produced below their season average when playing the Citronauts.

One area that has plagued the defense was outside containment. While not perfect, this was by far the best containment game of the year. Despite Parrish’s speed, the majority of his scrambling damage was up the middle as opposed to running to the outside. He still got to the corner on occasion, but it was not nearly as regular as prior opponents were able to do. UCF is shorthanded in their inventory of defensive ends, so there are a couple of players who have been playing out of position, but have shown tangible improvement as the season has worn on.

The red phone started to ring and then flags started to fly

This was a weird game penalty wise. Near the end of the first half, UCF had a substitution with 17 seconds left on the play clock. The rules forced the offense to allow for a defensive substitution, but the Memphis player very slowly made their substitution and it led to an inexplicable delay of game call that pushed the team from a 3rd and 2 to a 3rd and 7. Instead of trying to convert the first down and give Daniel Obarski a shorter kick, they trotted him out for what would have been a career-long 42-yarder. The kick was no-good and UCF only maintained a 14-7 lead going into the half. In the second half, UCF was bombarded with personal foul and defensive holding penalties. UCF went from 3 penalties for 24 yards in the first half to 11 penalties for 104 yards by the end of the game. Coach Gus Malzahn exhibited frustrations with some of the calls, highlighting the delay of game penalty mentioned above. While it could be nothing but a red herring, it’s worth noting that UCF is a lame duck in the American Athletic Conference and Memphis is not. UCF suffered from some similar head-scratching moments in 2012 against Tulsa. You be the judge.

Space Game v5.0

Since 2017, UCF has designated a game as the Space Game where UCF creates a unique uniform in-house celebrating UCF’s connection to the space program. The school also brings out their first mascot(unofficially), the Citronaut. This year’s edition had a really nifty feature on the helmet where the helmet stripe has all the names of alums who worked on the shuttle program with the numbers 0-9 having all the shuttle missions in black formation. The helmet also had chrome facemasks that created a completely different look from previous space games. These uniforms weren’t perfect, but you have to appreciate the different aspects of the uniform. The team is limited with the helmet color due to supply issues, but I’d like to see the Citronaut on the helmet instead of the block UCF. The numbers popped on TV, but the names on the back did not. They probably should have made the NOBs in the same color combination as the numbers. While they don’t topple my personal favorite from 2018, they are still a good example of the thoughtful creativity UCF’s equipment team has. Personally, I’d like to see UCF go even more all-out on the game with the field being repainted with the Citronaut logo and the alternate colors of Canaveral blue and black. Might as well go all the way with it like minor league baseball teams do with one-off name changes. Maybe when UCF joins the Big XII and has some extra resources to work with, perhaps this could become a possibility.

UCF RB Isaiah Bowser
Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Each of the four players interviewed after the game: Davonte Brown, Big Kat Bryant, Sam Jackson, and Isaiah Bowser all raved about the space game uniforms with the chrome facemasks being the most commented feature. I hope the equipment designers are taking notes.

Stat Leaders

UCF: Mikey Keene: 11/19 for 63 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int
MEM: Peter Parrish: 31/48 for 215 yards, 0TD, 3 Int

UCF: Isaiah Bowser: 26 carry for 117 yards, 0 TD
MEM: Peter Parrish: 22 carries for 105 yards, 0 TD

UCF: Ryan O’Keefe: 6 catches for 41 yards, 1 TD
MEM: Calvin Austin III: 7 catches for 44 yards, 0 TD

Game Notes

  • UCF leads the series 14-2
  • UCF is a perfect 5-0 in space games.
  • UCF has won every space game by double digits. The lowest margin of victory is 12 points in 2018.
  • Sorry it’s not my best, but I was distracted by the space game uniforms.