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Knight Class Week 10: UCF vs Oklahoma State

What did we learn about the Citronauts in the Space Game according to The Student of the Game?

Derek Warden

In the latest edition of the Space Game, the UCF Knights hosted the #15 Oklahoma State Cowboys in the “Bounce House”. With Citronaught gear rampant throughout FBC Mortgage Stadium, UCF stopped their fans from feeling the Canaveral Blues by winning their first game against an incumbent Big 12 team in the biggest blowout of a ranked team in program history, 45-3.

The Best Performance in 2023?

Many Knight Fans would have thought a victory over Oklahoma State to be a moonshot. The Cowboys’ Ollie Gordon has been out of this world coming into this contest as the nation’s leader in rushing with how dangerous he can be in space. The Knights’ defense answered the call, boldly going where they hadn’t gone before in stopping the run.

Oklahoma State had -6 yards on the ground heading into the locker room down 24-0. Over and above that, the defense also accrued the most takeaways in a game this season with four. Defensive Coordinator Addison Williams attacked the run with defensive backs helping to seal the outside runs while the defensive tackles helped contain anything up the middle even without Ricky Barber in the game. Defensive tackle Lee Hunter led the team in tackles with eight including two for a loss.

UCF quarterback John Rhys Rice Plumlee had his best game since returning to action against the Oklahoma Sooners. Plumlee completed 11 of 18 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns with a lost fumble as well as 74 yards on 11 carries. With all the impressive stats Plumlee posted, fans should also be encouraged by him protecting himself opting to slide to end big runs without putting himself in harm’s way.

The Knights had four receivers receptions with over 30 yards including Javon Baker with 112 yards on four catches. Kobe Hudson had three catches for 96 yards with touchdowns despite battling a hamstring injury in the game.

For all that passing success, UCF also turned in 293 yards on the ground while holding the Cowboys to 52 — the lowest running yards allowed against a conference opponent this year.

Making the Game

Special Teams: C

The definition of a problem child in the context of this game. The score was out of hand so early that the impact was minimized, but two 15-yard penalties in kickoff coverage is just sloppy. On a night when everything else isn’t going in your team's favor, this is the kind of thing that can lose football games.

Mitch McCarthy did his part averaging just over 44 yards on his three punts with one inside the 20.

Defense: A+

The defensive performance is unparalleled this season. Holding the 15th-ranked team in the country to a field goal is only the beginning. Gordon was held to 25 yards with a fumble on 12 carries for OK State while their quarterback Alan Bowman completed 19 of his 36 passes for 225 yards and three interceptions.

Demari Henderson was huge himself hauling in two interceptions as well as recovering Gordon’s fumble that was forced by Jireh Wilson. Braeden Marshall also recorded his first interception as a Knight.

Also worthy of note is the Cowboys didn’t score a touchdown in either of their red zone trips while converting 2-of-12 on 3rd downs and only 25:15 in time of possession.

Offense: A

While UCF came out throwing the ball for 37 and 38-yard connections to Xavier Townsend and Baker to open their first two drives, RJ Harvey proved once again why he is the team MVP. Harvey turned in his fifth straight 100-yard game posting 206 yards on 24 carries. The offensive line with Lokahi Pauole at center opened up lanes for Harvey throughout the night featuring a 92-yard jaunt to pay dirt.

Harvey is the first UCF runner since Greg McCrae to turn a 200+-yard performance rushing and a 1,000-yard rushing season.

While Plumlee getting strip-sacked for a fumble lost is the lowlight of the team’s performance, this is clearly the most complete showing of the Gus Malzhan era. It seems appropriate that coach Malzahn himself said after the game that it was his best win at UCF who remains undefeated in Space Games.

Next week UCF will face Texas Tech in their final road game of the year one win away from bowl eligibility.