It wasn't pretty, but UCF will take what it can get right now. The Knights beat Memphis 32-14 thanks to a career day from sophomore running back Brynn Harvey. While the score wasn't indicative of how tight of a game it really was, UCF is certainly relieved to get its first conference win of the season.
The Knights (3-2, 1-2) trailed Memphis 14-9 late in the third quarter, then Brett Hodges found Ricky Kay out of the backfield for a seven-yard touchdown. The Knights didn't convert on the ensuing two-point conversion but it was all the they needed, as UCF would go on to dominate the fourth quarter by outscoring Memphis 17-0.
"Finally the offense started clicking in the second half," said UCF head coach, George O'Leary. "I think it was a well played second half by us on offense and defense, and the kicking game actually."
The kicking game was certainly effective for the Knights, as Nick Cattoi made all four of his field goal attempts, and his accurate leg kept UCF afloat until the offense regrouped late in the game. In the first half, it was an all too familiar story for UCF due to the team's reoccurring red zone woes.
UCF found itself inside the 20-yard line eight times but was only able to come up with two touchdowns. Knights quarterback Brett Hodges was responsible for one potentially devastating play when he threw an interception inside the red zone. Jada Brown picked the ball off and returned it 62 yards, but fortunately for the Knights, Memphis' kicker, Matt Regan, missed a field goal as the first half wound down.
"It's kind of the story of our season right now and it's really frustrating," said Hodges on UCF's problems converting when deep inside the opponents' territory. "They aren't really doing anything, we're doing it all ourselves. We're moving the ball down there and we just need to start finishing."
The Tigers didn't have to worry about red zone scoring for much of the evening, as most of their offense came on big plays. UCF's defense was stingy through the entire first half, but a 61-yard bomb from Tyler Bass to a wide open Duke Calhoun gave Memphis a 7-3 halftime lead. Calhoun would strike three more times during the game as he finished with four receptions for 162 yards.
Coming out of the locker room in the second half, UCF relied on Cattoi's leg to keep the game close but Memphis continued to find success through the air. The visiting Tigers substituted senior signal caller Will Hudgens for the incumbent Bass and the Tigers found instant success. Hudgens completed three passes for 67 yards, including a 12-yard score to DajLeon Farr. Now trailing 14-9, Hodges and UCF's offense would take over.
"I was playing a little too tight and not having fun," said Hodges. "I was playing not to screw up, which I don't need to be doing. I got a nice little pep talk from Coach O'Leary at halftime to kind of get me going. I came out in the second half and tried to play within myself."
In the second half, Hodges gathered himself and went 9-of-14 with two scores. However, it wasn't Hodges that stole the show but running back Brynn Harvey, who had a career day. Harvey took advantage of dominating line play as he ran for a career high 219 yards and one touchdown on 42 carries. His powerful and productive running allowed the Knights to grind the game out in the fourth quarter and put the Tigers away.
With UCF's 38 minutes of possession time to Memphis' 21, the Knights clicked on all cylinders in the fourth quarter. Hodges spread the ball around to the likes of Jamar Newsome and A.J. Guyton, who had 58 and 50 yards, respectively and Harvey ran as aggressively as he has all season. The defense also picked it up late in the game by cutting down on blown assignments and getting to the quarterback.
"We knew (the defense) just had to go out there and do our job and the offense would come around," said linebacker/safety Derrick Hallman.
"I think we came out and played in the first half, but in the second half for some reason we were able to pick it up and get pressure on the quarterback," said defensive end Bruce Miller, who had 2.5 sacks. "The offense was moving the ball all day long but we weren't able to put it in the end zone in the first half but in the second half they did a great job, we went up and the defense was able to hold them."
With another late game surge, the Knights moved to 3-0 at Bright House Networks Stadium. If the Knights are going to improve to 4-0 at home, the team will have to play efficient football for not only one half, but an entire game as they will host nationall-ranked Miami in two weeks.
Harvey Runs Through Memphis
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