On the surface, a 28-24 victory over an FCS school would be a cause for certain concern. The Knights could've easily suffered an embarrassing home defeat that could've stayed with the program all year long and fan support would have suffered, to say the least.
A four-point victory over an FBS program which finished 6-5 a year ago would have many bracing for the worst, but after taking in the exciting 60 minutes of football Saturday night, I see a lot more good than bad.
Saturday's contest was a bit of a weird game, and certainly a game of missed opportunities for the Knights, as they could've easily lost or had a blowout victory. Sure, reality says that the Knights were one more blown coverage away from being on the wrong side of the upset, but they were also just a few sloppy plays away from blowing the game wide open.
Two missed field goals and a missed extra point accounted for seven points lost. Throw in a Rocky Ross fumble near the goal line and there's another seven points. A Samford scoring drive was kept alive by a very questionable late hit out of bounds and there's three more points. That same drive resulted in a missed field goal, but an offsides penalty gave the kicker another try in which he converted. Finally, UCF quarterback Brett Hodges made seemingly his only mistake of the night throwing a pick-six.
Although those mistakes certainly happened, they are fixable and avoidable, and that led to 24 lost points in one way or another for the Knights.
I have the utmost respect for the Samford Bulldogs and their coaching staff as they did a masterful job of calling plays on Saturday night. That said, on their first touchdown, the receiver made a Sportscenter type of play leaping catch over the UCF corner and wrestled the ball away from him. That play may happen one out of ten times. Their second offensive touchdown came on a trick wide receiver pass which was perfectly executed as the Knights were caught being overly aggressive.
The Knights were dominant on defense at the point of attack and backup quarterback Brett Hodges came into the game and showed great leadership and gave a struggling offense a calming presence. Hodges knew where to go with the football and delivered nice, catchable passes. Aside from the interception, Hodges played near-perfect ball, and the Knights seemed to have a passing attack for the first time in better than a season. Special teams with the exception of the kicking game was very good as freshman Quincy McDuffie turned on the afterburners and returned the opening kickoff of the second half 95 yards to pay dirt, showing his game-breaking speed.
The not so good:
Obviously, the penalties, turnovers, and kicking game were all problems that need to be fixed. The trick play that resulted in a touchdown was the result of an overaggressive defense that has inexperience in the secondary.
The first sigh of relief:
When Brett Hodges led the team down the field with roughly a minute left in the half and Brynn Harvey punched the ball in the end zone from one-yard out. It was the Knights first score since November and they seemingly broke the ice that had been frozen for roughly ten months.
It was over when….
Hodges found Jamar Newsome wide open in the end zone putting the Knights up 28-24. Samford already used up everything in their bag of tricks and they simply weren't good enough to score on the UCF defense after that. The Knights were able to overcome their mistakes in their first game of the season and still play well enough to walk away from "The Cable Box" with a victory.
Although the margin of victory was smaller, I feel much better about the UCF offense and team as a whole entering week two than I did after last season's 17-0 opening day victory over South Carolina State. The Knights could have a legitimate quarterback and leader in Brett Hodges, wide receiver Kamar Aiken could turn into the big play wideout that he has the potential of being, and defensive tackle Torrell Troup continues to be the most dominant defensive player in the C-USA.
Overall, perception may be considered reality, but reality is reality, and the reality of Saturday night is that UCF won in a nail-biter over a school in which it should've handled. A much better effort will be necessary if the Knights' are going to leave Hattiesburg, Mississippi with a victory next Saturday.
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