Despite being shorthanded on the defensive side of the ball two weekends ago in Houston, UCF posted its second consecutive win, beating the Cougars 44-21 to head into its second bye week of the year on a high note.
The Knights kept their already-slim conference championship hopes alive with the victory on Halloween afternoon, taking advantage of a fantastic first half before cruising the rest of the way. They led 23-7 heading into the break, with the only touchdown for Houston coming on a 34-yard scoop-and-score. The offense wasn’t its sharpest, but the defense posting a first-half shutout—even without some of its key starters—to get some separation and set things up for an easy second half.
Now at 4-2 overall and 3-2 in the AAC, UCF is rested after its bye week and will host Temple (1-4, 1-4 AAC) this Saturday night at the Bounce House. But before we get there, we’re going to take one final look at the Knights’ performance on the final day of October. That’s right, we’re back for a somewhat-delayed Knights of the Round Table!
A reminder of how this works: After each of UCF’s games, we’ll decide which Knights were the top performers, and those guys will get a seat at that week’s round table. The top performer will fittingly get the seat at the head of the table. OK, let’s go.
Seat 1: Greg McCrae (16 carries, 107 yards, TD, 6.7 AVG)
On a day when Dillon Gabriel’s stats didn’t jump off the page as much as they normally do, the UCF backfield more than impressed. The Knights ran for 353 yards on the day, with senior Greg McCrae serving as a huge part of that effort. He ran for 107 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, with his score helping extend the team’s lead to 37-13 in the fourth quarter. McCrae has been at his best in recent weeks, having scored in three straight games and rushed for 100-plus yards in the last two. He is up to 496 yards and five touchdowns on the year through six games, which is pretty impressive considering how much UCF splits carries between its running backs. Plus, he has dealt with injuries throughout the year to boot. But he appears healthy now and looks primed for a run similar to the one he had near the end of his breakout season in 2018. If the Knights can get prime McCrae over the last few games, they’ll be tough to stop.
This is Greg McCrae’s third appearance on Knights of the Round Table.
Seat 2: Tatum Bethune (8 tackles, 5 solo, 1.5 tackles for loss, 2 PBU)
When it was announced just before kickoff that the Knights would be without four defensive starters due to an on-campus incident a couple of days earlier, there had to be a collective groan throughout Knight Nation. The defense had already been iffy all year long and now it was without four guys who were presumably some of the unit’s best players. Well, it turned out not to matter, as younger guys stepped up and helped UCF to its best defensive performance of the season. One of those standouts was Tatum Bethune, a sophomore who started in the place of Eric Mitchell. Bethune took advantage of his big opportunity, posting eight tackles (five solo), with two of them going for losses. He also broke up two passes, ensuring that the Knights’ linebacking corps didn’t miss a beat. With Mitchell now gone, Bethune will have the rest of the year to continue picking up valuable experience. If he continues to provide performances such as the one he had against Houston, UCF’s defense will be more than fine.
This is Tatum Bethune’s first appearance on Knights of the Round Table.
Seat 3: Ryan O’Keefe (3 catches, 97 yards, 2 TD, 32.3 AVG)
UCF’s ability to develop big-play receiver after big-play receiver is unbelievable, isn’t it? Sophomore Ryan O’Keefe may not get as much attention—from media and fans but also from opposing defenses—as Marlon Williams and Jaylon Robinson, but he continues to impress in this Knights offense. His speed is phenomenal, as he put on display against the Cougars. He managed just three catches, but averaging 32.3 yards per catch put him just shy of the 100-yard mark. And with two touchdowns, he proved to have the biggest day of any UCF receiver. His two scores also provided much-needed answers for the offense, with the first being a 34-yarder that helped UCF regain the lead at 10-7 in the first quarter. The second, a 36-yarder, pushed the team’s lead to 30-13 just after the Cougars got within 10 points at 23-13 in the third. With those big plays, it was another great performance from O’Keefe, who was playing just a drive away from his hometown of Austin.
This is Ryan O’Keefe’s second appearance on Knights of the Round Table.
Seat 4: Richie Grant (7 tackles, 5 solo, 1 sack, INT)
In trying times, teams need their leaders to step up. And that’s what Richie Grant did against Houston. With so many starters missing, it was imperative for Grant to step up and continue leading the way against a solid Houston offense that came in averaging 37.3 points per game. The redshirt senior posted seven tackles, a sack—the first of his career—and a key interception. His sack ended the first Houston drive of the afternoon, helping to set the tone, then his interception helped UCF seal the ball game. After the Cougars got within 23-13, the Knights scored to make it 30-13, then the defense kept momentum on the visitors’ side thanks to Grant’s third interception of the year. At the time, the pick tied him for the most in the country, though he is now tied for second after the bye week. Nonetheless, the unquestioned leader of the defense stepped up and made plays for a team that needed him while also undoubtedly improving his NFL Draft stock in the process. That’s not a bad day.
This is Richie Grant’s second appearance on Knights of the Round Table.
Head of the Table: Otis Anderson (16 carries, 170 yards, TD, 10.6 AVG; 1 catch, 11 yards)
The aforementioned UCF backfield took over the game at times, as evidenced by its 353 rushing yards and yards per carry clip of nearly seven. The leader of that charge—which also included a 107-yard day from McCrae and 87 yards from Bentavious Thompson—was senior Otis Anderson. The Knights offense was often sparked by the quickness and tough running of Anderson, who finished with 170 yards and a touchdown on the ground. And while he wasn’t as involved in the passing game as he often is, he didn’t need to be. The Jacksonville product was a huge part of the Knights’ ability to close the game out, as he had just 42 rushing yards at halftime before putting up 60 in the third quarter and 68 in the fourth to finish with 170 and a 10.6 yards per carry average. His ability to wear Houston down late kept the lead a comfortable one for UCF, and his 28-yard touchdown with 1:36 left made it 44-21 and put the final touches on the victory. With Anderson and McCrae going like they are right now combined with Gabriel’s incredible run, this UCF offense may just be on pace to be the best in school history.
This is Otis Anderson’s second appearance on Knights of the Round Table and his first appearance at the Head of the Table.