MADISON—If the Central Florida Golden Knights paid attention to bad omens, they would not have bothered to show up at Camp Randall Stadium for their season opener. Playing without head coach George O'Leary, the Golden Knights fell 34-6 to Wisconsin Saturday.
O'Leary's absence was just one of several obstacles that stood in UCF's way this fall. Severe weather in the Orlando area, the product of hurricanes Charley and Frances, wreaked havoc on the team's practice schedule, snatching valuable teaching time from O'Leary, who is in his first year at UCF, and his young team. In addition, the team lost its leading tackler from a year ago when senior strong safety Peter Sands was declared ineligible this past week for academic reasons that have yet to be fully disclosed. As Saturday's game kicked off, Hurricane Frances was bearing down on Florida, making its slow progression towards the coast that has left more than a million people without power and resulted in a call for the evacuation of more than 2.8 million.
"Since when our kids reported in August," acting head coach Dave Huxtable said, "it's been a real unusual preseason for us. At least, as long as I can remember, I've never been through a preseason like this. The number of practices that we've been forced to miss because of rain or lightning, the number of repetitions that we've missed I think have really hurt us as a football team… and then this happened with Coach O'Leary not being able to be here. So it's been kind of an up and down preseason, but as soon as we get George back, we'll get back on track and rally the team together and come back and get some W's."
Coming into the game, the Golden Knights had the utmost confidence in their temporary head coach.
"When we got to Wisconsin, Coach Huxtable came in as the head coach," senior linebacker Stanford Rhule said. "He did a great job of explaining to everyone the situation and the adversity we were going to be going through. We have to stick together and play as a team, and just look past it. So that's what we did."
With Huxtable running the team in O'Leary's absence, UCF fell behind early and never recovered. Offensively, the Golden Knights struggled to move the ball on the ground, with leading rusher senior tailback Alex Haynes netting 56 yards on 21 carries, an average of just 2.7 yards per carry. Knights quarterback Steven Moffett, who was constantly harassed by Badger defenders, completed 13 of 24 passes for 177 yards, but also threw one interception, fumbled once and was sacked four times.
"To be able to throw the football, you've got to be able to run the football," Huxtable said. "We wanted to be able to run the football, and we did not have success. We went to the air to try to loosen them up a little bit, (but) didn't feel like our protection could hold up."
While O'Leary could not be at the game, he phoned Huxtable before the game and at halftime to help his assistant to the best of his ability.
"He said at halftime that he was proud of the kids and how hard they were playing," Huxtable said. "He said to hang in there, stay positive, keep the kids up and do the best we can."
Unfortunately for the Knights, the call didn't help, as they were outscored 14-3 in the second stanza. However, even after being outgained 400-230 in total yardage, the game was not a total waste for Central Florida.
"I'm going to be positive, and there were some small wins today," Huxtable said. "There were some small wins today. There will be some things that we're going to look at on film, some players will have played well today. That will be a small win for us. So we've just got to regroup, rally back, get our head football coach back here and go back to the practice field and get better."
Golden Knights fight through adversity in loss
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