Sweet like curdled milk.
Here’s the truth: This game was not as close as the score made us believe it was and I’m not leaning UCF’s way. Baylor won in all three phases of the game. I think we need to look into why this game was more one-sided in favor of Baylor than the one-point victory they got to enjoy.
UCF hit hard and fast early, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. The Knights scored on their first play from scrimmage, a 79-yard run by Johnny Richardson. Later in the quarter, they scored again on a 65-yard pitch and catch from Timmy McClain to Javon Baker. At this point, it’s 21-0 UCF and the Knights are outgaining Baylor 196-2, with Baylor and quarterback Blake Shapen having two three-and-outs and a six-play, two-yard drive, which also ended in a punt. The silent assassin was the time of possession, which was in favor of the Bears 6:12 to 2:28.
From this point, the script flipped. Despite spending the rest of the day catching up, Baylor was more in control than meets the eye.
Time of possession was a killer. By the time the game was done, Baylor was ahead 35:31 to 24:29, but it was 23:02 to 6:58 at halftime. By the time the fourth quarter comes, that can kill a defense that’s undersized and gassing.
UCF had one drive of four minutes or longer, a 14-play, 84-yard drive that took 6:46 and culminated in UCF’s only points in the second half. Conversely, the Knights had four drives of less than one minute of game time and four more that were 2:07 or less. The Knights had two drives of ten plays or more: the aforementioned long drive and the game’s final drive. No other drive lasted longer than eight plays.
Baylor, on the other hand, had four drives that took at least four minutes of game time and had four drives of ten plays or more and their final scoring drive took nine. Coach Dave Aranda was like a sculptor. His team was busy chiseling the game into a work of art.
So what did Baylor do that neutered UCF’s offense to 268 yards and 7 points over the final three quarters while his Bears offense had 365 yards and 22 points? Heck, let’s go even further back and see how Baylor outgained UCF 439 to 244 from 6:17 left in the first quarter forward.
Let’s start with their defensive strategy.
It took Baylor a bit to adjust to UCF’s speed and they realized how bad the offensive line was at opening up holes in the middle, so they committed to containing the outside and dared the Knights to run up the middle. Once they made this adjustment, the UCF offense started to fizzle. The Knights’ longest run in the second half from scrimmage was 18 yards and that drive later became a scoop-and-score for Baylor. The Knights did have four second-half completions of over 15 yards. The first two were on UCF’s long scoring drive in the third quarter and the third started a drive that ended up in another turnover. The last was the fourth down conversion that has since gone viral and it was only a 16-yard gain despite McClain running over 30 yards the wrong way. The Knights only had one in the first half and was the 65-yarder from McClain to Javon Baker.
Johnny Richardson was the team’s leading rusher, but his numbers were deceiving. Outside of his 79-yard run, he had 5 carries for 26 yards with a long of 18. RJ Harvey was a little more consistent, having four carries for at least 10 yards, but also had four carries for negative yards in the second half, including a fumbled snap that became a defensive touchdown. While I question running the wildcat on 3rd and medium, I consider the defensive touchdown each team had to be a wash in the grand scheme of things. Harvey would finish with 21 carries for 95 yards. Javon Baker was the team’s leading receiver with 3 catches for 113 yards, but you take away the first quarter, he had 1 catch for 35 yards on UCF’s last scoring drive in the 3rd quarter. Kobe Hudson was nearly non-existent, being targeted only twice and having one catch for 5 yards on the final drive of the game. McClain’s inconsistency in the fourth quarter where he went 5/12 for 42 yards left a lot of time on the clock and failed to convert on third down. McClain went 2/4 for 17 yards and only one first-down conversion.
On offense, efficiency was the key for Baylor. They had four drives in the second half consisting of 11, 10, 5, and 9 plays and scored on every one of them. The shortest drive was 50 yards, so these sustained drives wore the defense down. While UCF had more chunk-yard running plays of over 10 yards(7 to 6), Baylor was able to create more passing plays that yielded 15 or more yards. The four in the first half were for 17, 15, 25, and 15 yards. In the second half, they were 16, 43, 35, and 36. Big difference in the Bears' ability to create the big play. UCF’s defense was able to pressure Baylor early with three first-half sacks and another in the third quarter, but none in the fourth. In fact, Shapen only had two incompletions during the entire fourth quarter, going 8/10 for 152 yards and a score. The last one helped set up the go-ahead field goal to complete the comeback.
Not only were the Bears able to create big plays that moved the ball, but kept UCF’s defense on the field and won the battle on third down, going 7/11 on third down from the second quarter on versus UCF going 5/12. In the decisive fourth quarter, Baylor went 3/4 on third down. UCF went a paltry 1/6.
Lastly, let’s talk about special teams. For UCF, they were atrocious. Kicker Colton Boomer went 0/2 on the day in field goals. His first was a 32-yard kick in the second quarter that was blocked and a 59-yard attempt fell short as time expired. Punter Mitch McCarthy had a bad 19-yard punt that helped set up a Baylor touchdown in the fourth quarter. I had a great angle to see the punt and I don’t know why since the line of scrimmage was the UCF 36, but he was facing too far out of bounds and the ball went in that exact direction. The return game was also awful. In particular, when Baylor took the lead with 1:21 left in the game, they kicked it off and Johnny Richardson caught it at the 7. Considering the lack of time on the clock and the fact that the Knights’ longest return on the day was 21 yards, you would think he’d fair catch it for a touchback, which would have saved 7 seconds of precious clock and put the ball at the UCF 25. Instead, he returned it to the UCF 26. That amount of time would have allowed the Knights to have one more play before having to settle for the final field goal and might have allowed a strategic change for the play before.
Was this game a brutal gut punch? It sure was, but don’t take my word for it. Kyle Nash talks about it in Knight Class and since we were all at the game in some fashion, he and Eric Lopez hosted KnightShift to talk about it some more.
Let’s change gears a bit.
Now, what if I told you this was not the most inexplicable loss? Sure, the scoreboard tells one story, but Baylor balanced the scales over time. Yes, the 28-point blown lead is a school record, but Baylor played a complete 60-minute game and was pretty even with UCF statistically when it was all said and done. What if I told you there was a game where UCF passed for a school-record 440 yards, had two players with over 150 yards receiving, and outgained their opponent by over 140 yards and still lost? No, it’s not a game from 2004 or 2015. Those were bad UCF teams and they got flat-out beaten. It’s on the list below.
I give you UCF vs. Syracuse on November 2nd, 2002. Yes, I was there to witness this one too.
This was not a good Syracuse team. When they came to Orlando, they were 2-6. They’d finish 4-8. They hung against an Auburn squad that ended up ranked and upset a ranked Virginia Tech but lost to BYU, North Carolina, and Temple, who each finished with losing records. Only two weeks prior, UCF blew a lead against Toledo, which
Like the game against Baylor, UCF came out swinging, jumping out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead that would eventually become 21-3 midway through the second quarter. Here’s what I’m leaving out. During the latter half of the first quarter and into the second, UCF would miss not one, but two field goal opportunities. Kicker Matt Prater would have a 36-yard kick blocked and later miss from 41 yards out. In between these two drives, Syracuse would get on the board with a 25-yard field goal. The Orangemen would score again on its last complete drive to make it 21-10 at the half.
The second half was a continuation of the same as Syracuse would score touchdowns on the next three drives before punting the ball away. UCF’s Asante Samuel fumbled trying to field the ball, giving back the ball to the Orangemen who, you guessed it, scored another touchdown. During this stretch, which started with 2:21 left in the second quarter and stretched to 9:50 left in the fourth, Syracuse outscored UCF 35-6 to take a 38-27 lead.
UCF would narrow the gap to a field goal after a four-yard toss from Ryan Schneider to Sean Gaudion in the fourth quarter and a two-point conversion. Prater would have another kick blocked, a 47-yarder late in the fourth quarter. UCF would get the ball back for one more shot but with the team starting at their own 2-yard line with no timeouts and 1:33 left on the clock, they could not move the ball enough and that was that..
Despite never leading until the early fourth quarter, Syracuse rode the run, outgaining the Golden Knights 197 to 99 and outcarrying by a margin of 50 to 31.
So Ryan Schneider, who set a school record of 440 yards passing, which was more than the entire Syracuse team by 44 yards lost. Doug Gabriel, who caught 12 passes for 206 yards, which was more than the 199 passing yards Syracuse had all night, lost. Jimmy Fryzel had 6 catches for 150 yards. Gabriel and Fryzel set a school record with a combined 356 yards receiving. Special teams murdered UCF’s chances with their three missed field goals and fumbled punt return. Special teams was also a major killer in the Baylor game. The Orangemen also had zero turnovers the entire game.
After this loss, UCF would win four straight to finish the season at 7-5 while the Orangemen would go 1-2 in their remaining games. Despite the winning record, the MAC only had two bowl bids available at that time, so there were no postseason games for UCF. Four of UCF’s five losses were by 5 points or less. Oddly enough, all four of UCF’s televised games that year were losses.
UCF’s historical inability to close out games gave rise to the term “UCFing the game”. It wasn’t until 2013 that the program was really able to shake this off. It’s ironic that the 2013 team was honored at the game against Baylor where an old tradition reared its head. What’s old is new, I guess.
Think of it this way. As crushing as these losses were at the time they happened, the program still moved forward. UCF wasn’t thrown out of the MAC (they’d accept an invitation to join Conference USA the following year) and they’re certainly not going to get thrown out of the Big 12.