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Knee-Jerk Reactions: Military Bowl - Duke 30, UCF 13

The Knight end the 2022 season on a losing note at the Military Bowl Presented by Peraton

UCF QB John Rhys Plumlee runs for a first down in the Military Bowl
Photo by Charles Brock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The UCF Knights closed their 2022 season in the Military Bowl Presented by Peraton facing the ACC’s Duke Blue Devils. The Knights struggled creating big plays and limiting mistakes as the Blue Devils won 30-13. It’s knee-jerk reaction time.

The future is now

UCF DB Ja’Cari Henderson was one of numerous young players to play during the Military Bowl
Photo by Charles Brock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The new reality is that players are going to leave early for the draft or transfer portal. UCF lost a number of players and Duke did not. As a result, younger players get opportunities for more playing time. On offense, WR Xavier Townsend was heavily involved in the offense, sliding into the role Ryan O’Keefe filled before transferring out. Townsend didn’t make any catastrophic mistakes, but also did not excel.

DB Ja’Cari Henderson showed some flashes of what’s to come with a solid open field tackle and a near interception. His brother Demari also made the stat sheet and played meaningful minutes. Other young players had a material amount of action as well, like Nikai Martinez and Kam Moore.

Aside from young players, we saw a coaching change when Addison Williams became UCF’s defensive coordinator. The result was immediate as the game plan had defensive backs playing tighter coverage on the line pre-snap. As the offseason goes on, more and more of his scheme will be installed.

Bowl games have value

Military Bowl Presented by Peraton - UCF v Duke
Blackhawk helicopters flew over the stadium before kickoff
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

One thing a bowl game does is show what UCF needs to work on. The offensive line struggled and while some moves were made in early recruiting and the transfer portal, more is needed. The Big 12 would gobble up the current crew.

Another thing bowl games offer is extra practice. The carryover players get extra work before the offseason. Ask any head coach and they will tell you that the thing they like the most about bowl games is the extra practice time.

There’s also the experience for the players and fans. While many fans had travel issues due to Southwest Airlines having a massive number of cancellations, the players are still able to have a good time doing activities with the bowls.

The defense was missing their vets

UCF’s defense struggled to keep Duke in check for three quarters.
Photo by Charles Brock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

UCF lost three starters to the NFL draft or the transfer portal and it showed. They also had a couple of starters out due to injury.

Those three starters were Divaad Wilson, Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste, and Davonte Brown. Tre’Mon Morris-Brash and Jarvis Ware also didn’t play due to injury. Losing all of those starters is hard to come back from. The depth has to step up and the roster becomes thin. For example, only three cornerbacks were on the two-deep roster.

With these handicaps, it took time for the newer players to settle in and as the game went on, the defense started playing better and better. Despite giving up a short field touchdown, the Knights only gave up 19 yards of offense in the fourth quarter. It was the only quarter the Knights outgained the Blue Devils.

So how did UCF lose?

Military Bowl Presented by Peraton - UCF v Duke
UCF QB John Rhys Plumlee fumbles the ball
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The offense couldn’t put anything together and there wasn’t a single culprit.

Despite what some fans might think, this isn’t all on quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. He struggled with putting faith in the pocket protection since the offensive line was a sieve. Their struggles had a negative impact everywhere else.

With the offensive line not being able to generate consistent protection, the passing game and eventually, the running game suffered. Adjusted for sacks, UCF gained 173 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. This would be ok if the game remained close enough for the team to continue to run. By the time UCF entered the fourth quarter, the game was too far out of hand to run the ball.

Plumlee isn’t innocent either. He on multiple occasions ran to the wrong side of a block. He was sacked six times. Some were from the pocket collapsing, but others were when he tucked to run on a passing play before the pocket broke down and the outside containment was ready to chase him down. When he caught the pass from RJ Harvey, he ran to the outside of the final block instead of inside. He might have scored if he took the inside lane. One has to wonder if his previous injuries played a role in his decision making.

The defense, like it has all year, could not generate turnovers. They made Duke go three-and-out on a drive that started at the Blue Devils 9 and it was followed by a bad punt, but they couldn’t force enough errors. Riley Leonard wasn’t sacked at all and the team generated only three tackles for loss.

Now what?

The 2022 is officially over. Now we look forward to 2023. UCF’s football tenure in the AAC is done and the Big 12 awaits. The Knights have brought in a new freshman class and transfers. There will be another signing day before spring practice.

Uniform review

Military Bowl Presented by Peraton - UCF v Duke
UCF wore a black/white/black combo with gold chrome decals
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

For the bowl game, both teams went with opposite designs. UCF wore black helmets with gold chrome decals, including a sword stripe and a memorial sticker for Jake Hescock, who passed away back on Dec 11th. As the “away” team, the Knights wore white tops and completed the outfit with black bottoms. The helmet Duke wore white helmets, blue tops, and white bottoms.

Stat Leaders

UCF: John Rhys Plumlee: 21/34 for 182 yards, 0 TD, 1 Int
DUKE: Riley Leonard: 19/28 for 173 yards, 0 TD, 0 Int

UCF: Isaiah Bowser: 11 carries for 39 yards, 2 TD
DUKE: Riley Leonard: 10 carries for 63 yards, 2 TD

UCF: Kobe Hudson: 5 catches for 63 yards, 0 TD
DUKE: Jalon Calhoun: 6 catches for 62 yards, 0 TD

Game Notes

  • Duke leads the series 1-0.
  • UCF is now 6-8 in bowl games.
  • This is UCF’s seventh straight bowl game, which is a school record
  • UCF has not won back-to-back bowl games since the 2012-13 seasons.
  • UCF finishes the 2022 season at 9-5.
  • Isaiah Bowser now has 16 rushing touchdowns on the season, good for second in single-season UCF history(Kevin Smith 29, 2007).
  • Sorry, it’s not my best, but Southwest cancelled my imaginary flight.