The first foray into Big 12 play for the UCF Knights in Manhattan, Kansas against the defending conference champion Kansas State Wildcats was less than ideal. Both teams were riddled with injuries heading into the contest. With that being said, the biggest test for the depth of the Knights’ roster thus far ended in a 44-31 loss.
Timmy McClain — welcome to the party, pal.
With UCF’s starting quarterback John Rhys Plumlee out, Timmy McClain took the field for the second consecutive Saturday against a set of Wildcats. Throughout the week, the hope was that the “tune up” against Villanova would help McClain and the offense get settled into battle without Plumlee against Kansas State.
While RJ Harvey and Johnny Richardson with some trickiness from Xavier Townsend were the driving force for the offense’s success, it was McClain’s ability in big moments to do what must be done (or not) that would decide the outcome.
Part of what kept UCF in striking distance down 21-17 at the half was the red-shirt sophomore leading the team to convert three 3rd downs out of the six opportunities in the first half. This was best accented by a 3rd and 16 that led to a Harvey touchdown reception on a screen pass. However, closing the first half on offense by throwing an interception where UCF could have closed or taken the lead was a step in the wrong direction.
Then to open the second half on offense, McClain hit a bomb on a 3rd down to Kobe Hudson. Unfortunately, as the game went on UCF was forced to pass more often as the Wildcats pulled away. In the fourth quarter, the mental errors mounted. McClain finished completing 14 of his 24 passes for 264 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
However, it was his desperation to make a play that would hurt him later in the game. Plays where he held on to the ball only compounded the problems on offense. These led to the Knights converting only five of 12 3rd down attempts on the night.
Did the Defense Pass the Test?
Throughout the season on the KnightShift Podcast, there have been questions for UCF’s secondary. That being said, playing against Kansas State’s passer Will Howard, even limited by injury, might represent the most talented opponent at the position thus far. Nonetheless, on the second drive of the game for the Wildcat offense, Knights’ defensive back Corey Thorton snagged an interception to secure a fourth straight game with a takeaway.
Howard threw 42 times while completing 27 for 255 yards and an interception with seven carries for 42 yards and a pair of touchdowns while playing with a limp in his step throughout the game.
The defensive front had its struggles with K-State’s DJ Giddens rushing 30 times for 209 yards and four touchdowns. Giddens basically controlled the flow of the game which helped a hobbled Howard make the plays that he did.
Another element is UCF battling the best array of athletes they’ve seen so far. It’s no accident that non-wide receiver targets combined to haul in 15 catches for 165 yards. Giddens led all Wildcats with eight receptions for 86 yards while tight end Ben Sinnott hauled in 5 for 64.
UCF’s linebackers didn’t seem prepared to handle their coverage of Kansas State’s check down options.
Making The Grade
Special Teams: B
Johnny Richardson’s 51-yard return to open the second half that gave the Knights a shot to take the lead deserves respect. Kick coverage did what it was supposed to while kicker Colton Boomer pounded in a 29-yard chip shot. Boomer marked his first miss of 2023 with a 53-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Giving up 100-yard rusher by halftime is an epic disappointment for the Knights. Credit to the secondary for getting the takeaway for a fourth straight game. However, there’s a lot of work to be done in covering the check down.
UCF had a stretch of what would have been five drives without a touchdown given up and only three points allowed — and then back-to-back 15-yard penalties committed by the defensive line happened. Those breathed life into the go-ahead drive for the Wildcats on the 3rd lead change of the game.
From that point on Giddens and Kansas State had UCF in the rear view as the wheels began to fall off for the Knights.
Two turnovers in the first half alone is a cause for concern by any offense, However, hanging around in this contest with special plays on 3rd and longs including a 3rd and 24 by Richardson and huge passing bombs to Kobe Hudson from McClain kept it close for three quarters. Hudson totaled over 100 yards on his first three catches and finished with five for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
RJ Harvey banged in a rushing touchdown to go with his scoring reception, but Richardson led UCF in ground yards with 76.
While mistakes late in the contest by McClain left a bad taste in the mouths of fans, he was put in quite a hole in the fourth quarter and throughout the game on 3rd down.
With Baylor on the docket for UCF’s first home conference game next Saturday at 3:30 pm EST, the opportunity to go 1-1 in the Big 12 is coming to the Bounce Houses in a rematch of the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.
Until then everyone, class dismissed.