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Going into the 2020 Boca Raton Bowl, UCF (6-4) was hoping for an opportunity to salvage a disappointing season. Instead, the #16 BYU Cougars (11-1) delivered them their first blowout loss since 2016 with a 49-23 pulverizing.
The table was set for a tough night for the Knights’ defense before the ball was even snapped. Over and above the fact that the Cougars have a Heisman Trophy candidate under center in Zach Wilson, UCF was down five starters on defense, not to mention the personnel issues that unit has faced thorough the year. This included Otis Thrope Trophy finalist, Richie Grant at safety, defensive backs Aaron Robinson and Derek Gainous, as well as Landon Woodson and Stephon Zayas in the trenches.
Wilson went right to work capping the inaugural drive with a 15-yard run for a touchdown before hitting tight end Issac Rex for another score on a flea-flicker in the next series. Late in the opening quarter, UCF lost a fourth defensive back, Divaad Wilson, to a targeting call ejection. This allowed BYU’s field general to get six more points with his feet from four yards out. The Cougars led 21-0 to end the first quarter.
While UCF’s Greg McCrae managed to score a touchdown to strike back early in the second quarter, the Cougars continued to pour it on as they finished the half with a 35-10 lead.
The closing half was more of the same as BYU demonstrated why their defense is ranked No. 3 in the country in points allowed for a reason. They were six seconds away from holding the Knights to an additional scoreless quarter until Dillon Gabriel threw his first touchdown pass for the night on a 21-yarder to Jacob Harris. By that point, it was clearly already garbage time as that closed the gap to 32 points with a score of 49-17.
Gabriel also found Jaylon Robinson for a touchdown in the fourth quarter with the game well out of hand.
Wilson made a strong closing argument for his case as a dark horse candidate to the Heisman voters by throwing for 26-of-34 for 425 yards and three passing touchdowns while adding two more on the ground. His leading receiver was tight end Issac Rex who had five receptions for 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
While Wilson threw for more yards in a bowl game than anyone else in BYU history, the running backs also made a huge impact. Tyler Allgeier reached the 1,000-yard mark for the season after grinding up 173 yards with a touchdown and added 60 yards receiving on three catches. Further augmenting receiving production out of the backfield, Lopini Katoa snagged four balls for 90 yards.
Gabriel had his roughest performance of the season going 21-of-45 with 217 yards passing for UCF with two touchdowns. Harris would be his top target with four catches for 67 yards and a touchdown.
The best performance for the Knights’ offense was Greg McCrae’s 18 carries for 77 yards. He would also score a touchdown on what may be his final game in Black and Gold. There’s not much wide receiver Marlon Williams could have done to help the running game if he was available to play.
This disastrous outcome for UCF converted a chance for redemption into a potentially devastating blow to the program. Suffering a smackdown like this in a bowl game might be something that damages the Knights’ national reputation.
It could remove them from the Top 25 rankings in the 2021 preseason. While the perception is that those rankings don’t matter, in order to be taken seriously in the CFP rankings as a Group of 5 school, history has shown that this is an essential element to being in the postseason discussion.
Not so much from the perspective of getting into the College Football Playoff, the committee that determines the rankings has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that won’t ever happen for a G5 program due to the Cincinnati Bearcats (9-0) being ranked #8 this season. Winning the prize of a New Year’s Six bowl appearance, it’s a big part of the equation.
If head coach Josh Heupel should manage to return UCF to the level of success they had in 2018, his program may still be left out of such an opportunity if a “more popular team” from the G5 who has gone undefeated still didn’t get their respect .
Only the 2021 season — which opens with UCF hosting Boise State – will tell the tail.