After their second bye week, the UCF Knights would start their home game honoring the US Armed Forces against the Temple Owls as the nation’s leading offense in yardage. While the fans were looking ahead to the following Saturday against the Top 10 ranked Cincinnati Bearcats, UCF Head Coach Josh Heupel had to make sure his Knights were prepared to take care of business to go “1-0” once more.
They did just that, with a 38-13 victory.
UCF’s defense delivered arguably their best game in 2020 against Houston two weeks ago, but in Temple’s first two drives the Knights stepped up yet again to cause two turnovers.
Within the opening minute, Eriq Gilyard ripped the ball from the hands of Owl quarterback Re-al Mitchell, making his first career start under center. Mitchell’s life was made more difficult when Tatum Bethune forced his way through two blockers to intercept a screen pass. The Black and Gold would finish the evening with three takeaways, with Corey Thornton adding a pick of his own in a crazy tip drill to himself.
After the game, Gilyard spoke of his unit’s recent success and it’s mentality: “I felt like two weeks ago against Houston we put out a great performance on defense and our goal was to come out today and put out a better performance. Just not being satisfied with nothing we do, I feel like we can do even better.”
In an odd turn of events, the defense hid some of the offense’s struggles in the first half. They were shut out in the 2nd quarter after scoring 21 in the first 15 minutes of play, including 14 off turnovers. After going to the locker room with a 21-3 lead, that’s when UCF began their final charge to score with another 17 in the third.
While it could be considered a “down week” for the Knights’ field general Dillon Gabriel who averages 417 yards per game so far in 2020, he still had plenty of big moments despite facing constant pressure through the middle of the line. He finished 12-of-22 passing for 268 yards passing with two connections for six to wide receiver Marlon Williams. While Williams finished with four catches for 102 yards, Jaylon Robinson led his corps in receiving yards, posting 122 on four snags of his own.
The running backs got to eat plenty as well, with Otis Anderson’s 83 yards on ten carries with a score and Greg McCrae breaking the plane twice himself. McCrae picked up 36 yards on ten attempts.
In the game’s final period, the Knights took their foot off the gas, sitting Gabriel in favor of Quadry Jones. Shortly after that change, the Owls Amir Tyler recovered a Bentavious Thompson fumble that was forced by Arnold Ebiketie. Temple running back Onasis Neely finished the drive for his squad’s only trip to the endzone.
While UCF collects the victory here, they needed help from other American Athletic Conference teams to get further up the standings. The AAC-leading Bearcats obliterated the East Carolina Pirates, which doesn’t help matters.
However, the good news for the Knights is that the 2nd-place Tulsa Golden Hurricane came back from a 24-7 deficit to beat SMU Mustangs. Moreover, a bit of bittersweet came with the Memphis Tigers’ contest against the Navy Midshipmen getting postponed due to COVD-19. This gives the Tigers fewer conference wins than the Knights, who are now tied for third in the AAC with SMU.
That being said, it is all for not if UCF can’t get past Cincinnati in 2020’s final game at the Bounce House next week.