It wasn’t pretty defensively and it ended up being much closer than it needed to be, but UCF emerged victorious over South Florida on Black Friday, winning this year’s installment of the War on I-4 by a score of 58-46 to even the all-time series between the two programs at 6-6.
With the victory, the Knights finished their 2020 regular season with an overall record of 6-3 and an AAC record of 5-3. They will now await their bowl destination as much of the rest of the country continues to finish up what has been a wild and unusual season. This year won’t be remembered all too fondly by Knight Nation, as the standards for the program have risen to new—and somewhat unrealistic—heights in recent years. But if a fourth straight win over the rival Bulls and another bowl victory are the final touches on this campaign, things will perhaps feel a bit better heading into 2021.
So, while UCF waits around to find out where and who it will be playing in its fifth straight bowl appearance, let’s look back on last week’s game against South Florida with our weekly Knights of the Round Table feature.
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: Landon Woodson (7 tackles, 6 solo, 3 sacks)
The UCF defense was a disaster against South Florida, and there’s really no getting around that. Allowing 46 points and 646 yards to a team that came into the game with a 1-7 record is simply unacceptable, and the unit as a whole has a lot to figure out between now and the bowl game—and especially before next season. But as bad as the overall performance was by the group, there were some individuals who stood out. Landon Woodson was certainly one of them, as he totaled three sacks on the day. It was a great day for the redshirt sophomore to break out, as those were his first three sacks of the season and one more than he had in his career prior to this game. He and Tre’mon Morris-Brash were the only Knights to get to Bulls quarterback Jordan McCloud throughout the afternoon, applying pressure to compensate for the coverage struggles in the secondary. It may not have made a massive difference for the defense as a whole, but Woodson’s performance still deserves some praise.
This is Landon Woodson’s first appearance on Knights of the Round Table.
Seat 2: Bentavious Thompson (16 carries, 110 yards, 2 TD, 6.9 AVG)
As porous as the Knights’ defense was against the Bulls, their offense picked up the slack. The 58-point effort for UCF was keyed by a balanced attack, with 241 yards on the ground and 336 through the air. The backfield was led in part by a big day from Bentavious Thompson, who ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. That’s a nice day, and it came with Thompson having to step up in the absence of Otis Anderson. The redshirt junior has often played behind Anderson and Greg McCrae this season, but when he’s gotten his touches, he has made the most of them. That’s what he did against South Florida, especially early on in the game. His 27-yard touchdown run in the first quarter tied the game at 7-7, then he later fought his way through the line for a two-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to make it a 58-38 game with 1:40 to go. Thompson may find himself with a bigger role in 2021, as Anderson is set to leave and McCrae is potentially gone as well. He undoubtedly deserves more carries going forward, considering he has averaged six yards per carry over the last three seasons and has totaled 13 rushing touchdowns over the last two.
This is Bentavious Thompson’s first appearance on Knights of the Round Table.
Seat 3: Greg McCrae (25 carries, 130 yards, TD, 5.2 AVG; 4 catches, 32 yards, 8.0 AVG)
While Bentavious Thompson had an impressive 110-yard day, it was senior Greg McCrae who finished as the team’s leading rusher, once again torching the rival Bulls on their home field. After a 181-yard, three-touchdown day at Raymond James Stadium in the 2018 meeting between the two teams, he put up 130 yards and a score in the 2020 edition of the rivalry while also catching four passes for 32 yards. Averaging 5.2 yards per carry over 25 carries, McCrae was the lead man for the Knights’ backfield, which was without Otis Anderson. Leading the way was nothing new to the former walk-on, though, as he has worked his way into being among the top rushers in UCF history ever since breaking out in the 2018 season. He already has a strong legacy as a Knight—he is in the top five for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in program history—but if he does choose to use his extra year of eligibility in 2021, McCrae would surely cement his legacy even further. Whatever he decides to do, though, he will undoubtedly go down as a lifelong fan favorite thanks to his contributions both on and off the field. (Psssst… If he does come back, you better believe the Greg McCrae for Heisman campaign will be stronger than ever.)
This is Greg McCrae’s fifth appearance on Knights of the Round Table.
Seat 4: Dillon Gabriel (22-36, 336 yards, 4 TD, INT; Rush TD)
After a couple of “quieter” weeks, Dillon Gabriel reestablished himself as one of the conference’s very best quarterbacks in the Black Friday win over South Florida. Despite the offense seemingly going stagnant on a few drives during the middle of the game—as it tends to do sometimes—the sophomore out of Mililani put up huge numbers against the Bulls. He threw for 336 yards and four touchdowns on 22-of-36 passing before later adding a rushing touchdown to put the finishing touches on a five-touchdown day. Any time you engineer a 58-point day, you’re going to get some recognition, which is why it was no surprise to see Gabriel receive a spot on the AAC’s weekly honor roll and get voted as the Manning Award Quarterback of the Week for the third time this season. For someone who may catch a lot of flak for simply not being McKenzie Milton, the soon-to-be junior had another monster year by the numbers, throwing for 3,353 yards (currently No. 1 in the country) and 30 touchdowns (No. 2) to just four interceptions. He put up those numbers in nine games, too, which would seem to indicate that the Knights offense is in great hands heading into 2021.
This is Dillon Gabriel’s sixth appearance on Knights of the Round Table.
Head of the Table: Jacob Harris (5 catches, 110 yards, 3 TD, 22.0 AVG)
With Marlon Williams, one of the nation’s leading receivers, missing from the lineup on Black Friday, South Florida appeared to be catching somewhat of a break. Its defense did a respectable job holding Jaylon Robinson and Tre Nixon in check, to be fair, but the unit may have forgotten about covering Jacob Harris, who had a career day to lead the way for the Knights and land a spot at the Head of the Table for the first time this season. He caught five passes for 110 yards and three touchdowns, averaging a whopping 22 yards per catch. The big-play receiver came up huge for the offense when it needed him most, as he caught touchdowns from 20 and 25 yards out in the second quarter to help UCF build a 28-7 lead. He later caught a 47-yard touchdown in the third quarter just when it seemed like the Bulls were getting back within striking distance. The home team had cut the Knights’ lead to 31-21, with Dillon Gabriel and the offense getting out to a slow start in the second half. But that long touchdown catch—Harris’ third of the day and seventh of the season—pushed the lead back to 17 points. It was a special performance for the redshirt senior in what was somewhat of a homecoming, as he wasn’t too far away from his native Palm Harbor.
This is Jacob Harris’ first appearance on Knights of the Round Table and his first appearance at the Head of the Table.