With a 1-1 start to the season, it wasn't quite a must-win game for UCF, but the Knights were in desperate need of finding their identity on both offense and defense. It took one full half but UCF seemed to get on track with a 23-17 victory over the Buffalo Bulls.
"They're all big games, but I think it's very big in giving them some confidence as far as if they do things right because things happen," said UCF head coach George O'Leary. "I thought they went after it the second half and as soon as they started getting first downs and moving chains you could see the confidence out there growing a little bit."
UCF asserted itself on the team's first offensive possession with Brett Hodges at the helm. Making his first start for the Knights, Hodges accounted for 59 yards during the series and led the team to the two-yard line after completing a seven-yard pass to Jamar Newsome. On the following play, Brynn Harvey waltzed into the end zone untouched to give the Knights the early lead.
Although UCF made it look easy in the beginning, Buffalo would dominate the rest of the half.
The Bulls responded in the second quarter with a methodical five minute drive that was capped off by a six-yard touchdown pass from Zach Maynard to tight end Jesse Rack to tie the game at seven.
Directly following a UCF three and out, Buffalo started the ball on UCF's 48-yard line and capitalized on the field position with a little razzle-dazzle. Going with the rare triple-reverse pass, the Bulls got the ball into the hands of their top playmaker, receiver Naaman Roosevelt, who found Rack wide open for a 34-yard touchdown pass, giving Buffalo a 14-7 lead.
With a 27-yard field goal by A.J. Principe, Buffalo extended its lead to 17-7 as time expired to end the first half. Sometime in the locker room during the half, the Knights awakened.
"They got chewed on pretty good at halftime," added O'Leary. "I thought we were just late in tackling and not tackling very crisp. I thought the coaches made the corrections they had to make and they went out in the second half and they tightened the coverage up and also started running their feet when they were tackling, which I think made a difference in the game."
In the previous two games of the season, UCF's defense hadn't forced any turnovers but the Knights finally caught a break, or several breaks against Buffalo, starting with Derrick Hallman forcing a fumble early in the third when the Bulls were driving.
"I guaranteed earlier this week that we were going to get turnovers this week and I just had to hold true to my word," said Hallman.
With a new lease on life, Hodges found Kamar Aiken on third down for a 39-yard pass that put UCF in the red zone. Five running plays later, Harvey squeaked up the gut for a four-yard touchdown, putting UCF within three points.
Hodges and Harvey had a good showing as backfield mates. Harvey was again held just under a four yard per carry average, but his two touchdowns and 98 yard performance was big for UCF's balanced attack. Hodges was the difference maker though, as he was efficient through the air, going 15-of-20 for 141 yards, while also accumulating 71 yards on the ground. Hodges hit on 10 consecutive passes to finish the game and clearly put any quarterback controversies to bed.
The Knights only fed off their momentum on defense as Jarvis Geathers beat Buffalo's tackle around the edge and forced a fumble as he knocked the ball out of Maynard's hand. Darius Nall recovered the ball on Buffalo's 33 and UCF mustered three points out of the opportunity when Nick Cattoi nailed a 43-yard field goal to tie the game at 17 with just over a minute left in the third.
Early in the fourth, Hodges found A.J. Guyton down field for a huge pickup but the play was negated by a holding call. The Knights refused to fold, as Hodges hung tough and got a first down on third and eight when he rocketed a pass to Aiken on a nine-yard dig. However, the drive stalled on fourth and goal with the ball was literally inches away from the goal line. Instead of putting the ball in the red zone, the Knights had to settle for a field goal, as they took a slim 20-17 lead. However, that would be all the Knights needed, as Geathers and Hallman would each force another turnover on the night to guarantee a UCF victory.
UCF vs. Buffalo Game Recap
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