The UCF Knights had the most prolific offense in yardage for the entire country heading into this game but their defense left analysts all over expecting the game against the Cougars to be a shootout. To make matters worse, that unit was also down four starters in defensive end Randy Charleton, defensive tackle Kenny Turnier, linebacker Eric Mitchell, and safety Antwan Collier.
Nonetheless, it would be Houston’s offense that had a problem, being held scoreless in the first half for a 23-7 UCF lead. The Knights continued to ground Houston with a 44-21 win on the road.
If it wasn’t for the Cougar front seven pouncing on a sack-fumble taken back to the house by Grant Stuard, they would have been shut out going into the locker room after a missed field goal with 1:38 remaining in the second quarter.
While the offensive unit was still explosive, they struggled at times in the red zone and on third down, which stopped them from lighting up the scoreboard. Regardless, quarterback Dillon Gabriel still delivered 19-of-33 for 328 yards with two touchdowns in the air.
Jaylon Robinson led his squad in receiving yards with 107 on five catches while Ryan O’Keefe posted 97 yards and three receptions as well as two end zone grabs. Additionally, UCF’s top receiver, Marlon Willaims snagged five balls for 87 yards as the nation’s leading pass catcher in yards leading up to this contest.
The ground game also did it’s part against Houston Head Coach Dana Holgorsen’s tough run defense. Running back Otis Anderson led UCF in rushing yards with 160 on 16 carries with a score. Greg McCrae also had 16 attempts and collected with a trip into the end zone. Bentavious Thompson also had 87 yards on eight touches with one of those breaking the plane for points as well.
The main story was the Knights’ defense. While managing only five tackles for loss on the day, they held their opponent’s offense to only two touchdowns while racking up two interceptions: one by linebacker Eriq Gilyard and the other veteran by safety Richie Grant.
After the game, Coach Heupel acknowledged that this effort may be the most complete effort to date, but he also acknowledged that improvement in penalties and defense is far from the final challenge for the season: “The penalties are something we could still improve upon [we had] a couple of critical ones that could have changed the way the game was played at the end of the game. It’s fragile. You have to continue to be on the right side of that.”
While UCF helped themselves in the American Athletic Conference standings by beating Houston, they still need plenty of help to reach the top. Not only will UCF have to win out (including a game against nationally-ranked Cincinnati), they still need Cincy, Houston, and Memphis to lose an additional contest.
The Knights would also require losses by SMU for a shot at revenge against Tulsa in the Conference Championship. It’s still a longshot, but UCF must continue to charge on to keep hope alive.
Next week is a bye week for UCF.