On national television via ABC, the UCF Knights’ quarterback John Rhys Plumlee returned to action. He and the squad traveled to Norman to face the man whose socks he filled in Dillon Gabriel. Playing his second year with the #6 Oklahoma Sooners since transferring from UCF, Gabriel and company escaped the Knights, 31-29.
Stop Blaming the Defense
It seems easy to pick on UCF’s defense for all their shortcomings in previous weeks. But when three of the first four drives for the Sooner offense starting on the Knights’ side of the field, what would you have the defense do? In fairness, punter Mitch McCarthy was forced to kick from within 20 yards or less of his own endzone on those attempts.
Most of that was due to play calling early for the offense. There’s nothing wrong with trying to run RJ Harvey. He was good for 101 yards on 23 carries. But the instant that the offense stopped pulling the guards to account for the Sooners' defensive ends Trace Ford and Ethan Downs booming plays in the backfield, Harvey broke open the 54-yarder to set the Knights up for their first seven points.
A slick run-pass option play call for an 86-yard jaunt to the house for Javon Baker from Plumlee earned a chef’s kiss from Knight fans as their squad headed into the locker room tied 17 at the half.
Short in the Second Half
Unfortunately, UCF wouldn’t find the endzone again until a touchdown put them with two points of overtime with just more than a minute left. However, the failed attempt on a trick play will be leaving a bad taste in the mouth of fans in Orlando.
UCF only converted one 3rd down in each quarter. Conversely, Gabriel completed 25 of his 38 passes for 253 yards with three scores and an INT as well as 10 carries for 22 yards. He also led his Sooners to converting 7-of-16 on 3rd down including 4-of-6 in the 4th quarter.
Making the Grade
Special Teams: C-
The only reason the grade is this high is Colton Boomer putting up nine points in field goals from 21, 48, and 46 yards. Mitch McCarthy punting has been below 40 yards a kick for the past three weeks. That’s not just on him, that’s on the punt coverage as well. Also, Xavier Townsend muffed a punt that could have dug a hole for UCF early while Harvey took the ball out for a kickoff from return six yards deep that was stopped inside the 20.
These and other simpler things must be better more consistently for this unit to grade higher.
They snagged a turnover that was turned into 3 points. They kept points off the board with drives that started in the Knights' territory. In this game, this group was the phase of the game that performed best. They were on the field for under 30 minutes for the first time in a conference game and a miracle nearly happened.
Were they tired at the end for the long run by Gavin Sawchuk who gave the Sooners the lead? Probably — but that was also the point in the game where the defensive plan was less aggressive up front. Defensive Coordinator Addison Williams seemed afraid of Gabriel doing what he did beating Texas two weeks ago with a late touchdown pass and former UCF and current Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby took advantage of it.
That being said, was it Coach Lebby not committing to running to the outside and not challenging the linebackers that enabled the Knights’ defense to make an impact? Future games may show us.
They may have started slow, but offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw and head coach Gus Malzahn made adjustments in the first quarter to take the lead three times during the contest. The defense had their best day of the season and the offense put up enough points to have the Sooners behind on the scoreboard for more time in this game than they have been all season combined.
They even scored on five straight drives. Three of them ending the first half and two heading into the third quarter. Once again though, the inability to find the end zone or move the chains was an issue. Going 4-for-16 on 3rd down and asking Boomer to win a game over an offense quarterbacked by a potential Heisman trophy finalist is not ideal.
Not sure you can be more wide open than Javon Baker was on this EIGHTY-SIX yard breakaway touchdown.— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) October 21, 2023
Harvey was still great. Plumlee needed to do more. He completed 16 of his 30 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns. Maybe it’s not fair to ask that of a guy with a dinged-up knee who is getting IVs to stay hydrated due to the flu, but more completions is unfortunately what the offense needed — that and maybe less trickeration silliness on a two-point conversion to tie the game.
That being said, this game could be a confidence builder heading into Homecoming at the “Bounce House” where West Virginia Mountaineers come to town for a 12:00 pm kick.