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On Monday, before the UCF Knights (6-3) hit the road to face the SMU Mustangs (7-2), UCF head coach Gus Malzahn said that this could be the most challenging game remaining on the schedule for his true freshman quarterback Mikey Keene. The Knights didn’t rise to the occasion losing, 55-28.
SMU mathematically eliminated UCF in the American Athletic Conference race on the back of their quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who is good for 326.4 passing yards per game. With the Knights’ top running back Isaiah Bowser continuing to battle through injury, Keene was expected to get involved in a shootout. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
UCF managed to match them score-for-score in the first quarter with the defense forcing mistakes. Josh Celiscar forced a fumble by Mordecai on a third down. Then Tatum Bethune’s interception in the next series helped UCF turn in points to make it 21-14 in favor of SMU going into the second quarter.
However, Mordecai and company continued delivering explosive plays to control the game which catapulted a 31-0 run to end the half.
Mustangs dominated the rest of the game with a few whimpers of resistance from the UCF offense. Keene finished 16-of-33 for 181 yards with one touchdown.
The biggest story for the Knights’ offense was Mark-Anthony Richards leading his team with 104 rushing yards on eight carries with a touchdown.
Mordecai completed 37-of-54 for 377 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. This enabled them to be multi-dimensional on offense with running backs Tre Siggers and Ulysses Bentley who combined for 190 yards on 25 carries with four touchdowns.
“I really think it starts with the run. They had a couple of really explosive runs and then the next thing you know, they are able to throw the football and we can’t pin our ears back,” said Malzahn.
The good news moving forward is that UCF has two weaker opponents to close out the year at home in the Connecticut Huskies and USF Bulls. This could lead them to a nine-win season with a bowl victory.
Considering all the injuries that even includes Malzahn breaking his tibia is in itself is a solid accomplishment for a first-year coach at a program.