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The UCF Knights (2-2) hit the field to open play in the American Athletic Conference and were torpedoed by the Navy Midshipmen (1-3), 34-30.
During the bye week, UCF didn’t have time to stew in their heartbreaking loss to Louisville where a laundry list of injuries called for several players to fill in for starters. Among them was quarterback Mikey Keene, who started over the injured Dillon Gabriel.
The Knights recovered a fumble on the opening drive from Navy. Keene, without his top running back and wide receiver in Isaiah Bowser and Jaylon Robinson, scored on his first snap on the road with a 15-yard pass to Brandon Johnson.
UCF’s defense continued to struggle tackling in the run game. They gave up 180 yards in the first half alone to the Midshipmen’s triple-option offense. Navy also blocked a punt for a touchdown to keep themselves within six points at halftime, with the Knights leading 23-17.
And the only reason it wasn’t closer than that was kicker Daniel Obarski booting UCF’s first field goal of the season from 28 yards out. This made the Knights the last team in FBS to record their first field goal in the 2021 season.
In the fourth quarter leading 30-17, UCF’s undisciplined play led to a collapse that allowed Navy to run the ball down the Knights’ throat while the offense was stagnant. After 17 unanswered points allowed by the Knights’ defense, Keene found himself with a 3rd and seven where he completed a pass to Johnson for 20 yards that he fumbled.
After the Midshipmen took the lead for the first time in the game off of the turnover, Keene was given an opportunity to bring his squad back. He got his team to the red zone, but Navy’s defense held them to a 4th and 15 where he threw an interception in the end zone. A blocked extra point on the second UCF touchdown forced them to go for the six instead of kicking a field goal for overtime.
Keene finished his first career start going 16-for-26 for 178 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
“One of the positives; I thought Mikey did a really good job in his first start on the road,” said UCF head coach Gus Malzahn. “He’s got a chance to be a really good player. But the bottom line is we didn’t get it done from a coaching standpoint and we’ve got to get better.”
With the Knights committing a blocked extra point, a shanked punt for good field position to set up the go-ahead score, and a blocked punt for six, UCF fans were given a harsh reminder of how much special teams can impact a game. And that’s over and above the way Navy controlled the ball with a 19:30 advantage in time of possession.
UCF heads home to the Bounce House to host the Pirates of East Carolina next Saturday at 6:00 pm EST.