The UCF Knights began the game with embattled quarterback Rob Calabrese under center, and the early results were near disastrous. Calabrese completed just two of four passes for 21 yards, and fumbled the ball twice, one of which was picked up by Martez Smith who took the ball 22 yards to the house.
After another Knights drive stalled under Calabrese, Southern Miss moved down the field with relative ease as Golden Eagles quarterback Austin Davis connected with Leroy Banks for an 18-yard touchdown. The five-play drive encompassed 44 yards and took just 1:39 off the clock.
UCF finally turned to last week's hero, Wake Forest transfer quarterback Brett Hodges, who many believe should have been the Knights starting quarterback in the first place. Hodges used a short passing attack to promptly move the team 68 yards in 18 plays, but the drive stalled at the ten-yard line and UCF settled for a 28-yard field goal from Nick Cattoi, cutting the Golden Eagles lead to 14-3.
After a Southern Miss drive that resulted in a short 21-yard Justin Estes field goal, Hodges moved the Knights down the field with confidence and ease. Hodges took his team 79 yards on eight plays and the drive was capped by a four-yard grab in the back of the end zone by Kamar Aiken. Aiken was a key to the drive as he had a big third-down catch near the sidelines, and finally tip-toed in the back of the end zone for the score, slicing the Southern Miss advantage to 17-10. Aiken finished the game catching four balls for 53 yards, and a touchdown.
With one last possession before the half, Southern Miss drove down the field and was able to tack on a 36-yard field goal by Justin Estes to stretch their lead to 20-10.
The rain began to fall in the third quarter, and the Knights offense stalled. They were only able to muster one first down in three possessions, but a muffed punt by Southern Miss received Freddie Parham gave UCF new life at their own 48-yard line. The Knights cashed in on their mini-break as Cattoi came in and booted a 50-yard field goal early in the fourth period to get the Knights within a touchdown, at 20-13.
The Knights defense continued to bend but not break, as they allowed Southern Miss to gain yardage and hold the ball, but the kept them off the scoreboard.
The Golden Eagles put the final nail in the Knights coffin as they took the ball near mid-field with 5:54 remaining in the game, and simply pounded the ball on the ground against a very fatigued UCF defense. The Knights front four was pushed around by the Southern Miss offensive line, and Damion Fletcher punctuated the drive by scampering in up the middle untouched from five yards away to put Southern Miss up 26-13, as the extra point attempt failed.
The Knights had one last hurrah as Jamar Newsome returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards to the Southern Miss five-yard line. Hodges cashed in on the first play as he found senior receiver Rocky Ross in the back of the end zone wide open to cut the Southern Miss lead to 26-19. Nick Cattoi missed the extra point.
UCF couldn't recover the onside-kick, and the Knights fell, 26-19.
Brett Hodges finished 15 of 26 passing, for 158 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Rocky Ross led the team with five catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. UCF couldn't muster much on the ground, as Brynn Harvey led the way for the Knights with 14 carries for just 37 yards.
Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis completed 23 of 33 passes for 253 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. The player of the game was running back Damion Fletcher who carried the ball 21 times for 103 yards and a touchdown. DeAndre Brown may have been questionable this week in practice, but he was far from a question for the Golden Eagles, as he led the team with seven receptions for 75 yards.
The Knights put up an excellent fight, but they couldn't overcome their dreadful start which got them down by two touchdowns. The defense did well to allow just six second half points being that they were on the field nearly the entire time following intermission.
UCF looks to get off to a better start next week as they host defending MAC Conference champion Buffalo at Bright House Networks Stadium.
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