The UCF Knights had never beaten a top 25 team in the school's history, so when they came out victorious over the 12th ranked Houston Cougars to the tune of 37 to 32, it made sense that was what stood out about the game to the team, right?
"I don't follow that," said George O'Leary about the program's previous 0-22 record against ranked opponents. "It's a big time win because it's a conference game."
With the win, UCF moves to 6-4 overall and 4-2 in conference play, which puts the team one step closer to overtaking ECU for the division crown. That and the fact that UCF kept the nation's number one offense nearly 150 yards below their yearly average were reasons to celebrate.
UCF's game plan was evident from the beginning; control the ball and the clock so that Houston's dynamic offense couldn't see the field. The Knights blended a ground and an aerial assault on their first series to earn two first downs before A.J. Guyton fumbled the ball after an eight-yard reception. Houston's Brandon Brinkley recovered the ball on his own 39, ruining UCF's attempt to establish momentum early on.
After Houston settled for a field goal, the Knights had a three and out and then the Orlando crowd got a taste of what Heisman candidate Case Keenum was capable of. Houston's quarterback wasted no time on making his presence felt as he avoided a would-be sack and with the flick of his wrist found a wide open Tyron Carrier for a 51-yard score to make the score 10-0.
Keenum wouldn't enjoy the same success for the rest of the game however. He was held to 377 yards and three touchdowns, much of which came when the outcome was no longer in hand. The numbers appear lofty but that was well below his season output. He was also sacked twice, one by Bruce Miller and another by Jarvis Geathers to give the duo 10 sacks each on the season.
"It was a relentless effort and a great job by the secondary and linebackers," said Miller. "We did a great job of getting to (Keenum.)"
Following a Nick Cattoi field that was setup by Brett Hodges going 6-of-6 for 45 yards on the drive, the Knights cut the game to seven points but Houston responded right away when Devin Mays returned the ensuing kick 100 yards for a touchdown to put the Cougars up 17-3.
The Knights would not go away however as they compiled a 62-yard drive that ended in a 4-yard Jonathan Davis touchdown run, giving the Knights hope entering the half as they trailed 17 to 10.
With two scoring drives of eight minutes and five minutes, the Knights continued their assault on the clock in the second half, putting together a four minute scoring drive. Hodges made several key passes on third downs to keep UCF's drive alive, including a 15-yard pass to Quincy McDuffie to get UCF inside the 10-yard line. Two plays later, Brynn Harvey found the end zone to pull the Knights within one following a blocked Nick Cattoi extra point.
Momentum started to turn UCF's way when Houston went three and out for second time of the half. On third down, Miller made his way to Keenum.
Now it would be Harvey's time to shine. With excellent blocking up front, the Knights trapped Houston and in a heartbeat Harvey was gone for a 41-yard score to give the Knights a 23-17 lead, which they would never relinquish. Harvey finished with 139 yards on 35 carries and three scores.
The Knights extended their lead with nine minutes left in the fourth when Hodges lobbed a pass in between several Houston defenders and Quincy McDuffie, who is listed at 5'10", made a spectacular leaping catch between several Cougars to give the Knights a comfortable 30-20 lead.
UCF was just shy of doubling Houston's time of possession, winning the battle 39:30 to 20:30. That was key to UCF's victory and it was exactly the way staff intended the game to go.
"As far as the game plan, we knew we had to stay on the field offensively to keep their explosive offense off the field," said UCF offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe. "I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job of that."
The Knights now sit with a 6-4 record which makes them bowl eligible and they have a 3-2 conference record. With a little help, the Knights could realize their dream of another C-USA title game appearance.
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