Coming off a thrilling game against Temple the week before, UCF fans were treated to a more relaxing experience for Homecoming. UCF Football looked like the better team from the start against Navy, eventually taking down the Midshipmen 35-24.
It was the Knights’ 22nd straight win and moved them to 9-0 on the season.
“Proud of the way the kids played, competed for 60 minutes in all three phases of the game,” coach Josh Heupel said. “Just proud of the ability to go win one more.”
Despite struggling early on last weekend, UCF’s defense looked dominant from the start against Navy. The Midshipmen could barely pick up more than a few yards on each play, and the Knights recovered two fumbles in the first half alone. Navy managed to hit a field goal, but that wasn’t nearly enough to keep up with UCF’s dynamic offense.
Milton had a fantastic first half, completing 11 of his 13 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown pass. He also led the team in first half rushing yards with 61. The Knights went into halftime with a commanding 21-3 lead over the Midshipmen.
In the second half however, UCF’s defense began to struggle more. Navy’s triple option offense kept the Midshipmen on the field for large amounts of time, giving the Knights’ offense few chances to build up a sizeable lead. A Navy touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter cut UCF’s lead to 28-17.
The Knights managed to respond almost immediately. On their first drive of the second half, they moved down the field with ease, and Milton eventually found Dredrick Snelson in the end zone to put UCF up 35-17 with 11 minutes to go in the game. Despite a late touchdown by Navy, UCF managed to hold on to win.
What we learned: Josh Heupel has no interest in running up scores. To people who didn’t watch the game, Saturday’s result may have appeared uncharacteristically close for a UCF team that typically blows out lesser opponents by large margins. The 2-8 Midshipmen only lost by 11, in part thanks to a late touchdown.
But the Knights, who were clearly the dominant team throughout the game, passed up on opportunities to run up the score and make the win more impressive. Despite getting the ball back with three minutes to go in the game and quickly moving into scoring position, UCF chose to run out the clock instead of up the score.
“We’re playing triple option,” Heupel said when asked about not running up the score. “We’ll take the win just how it came.”
What went right: The running game. UCF chose to lean heavily on the run and it paid off, with several players having big days. Running back Greg McCrae led the way with 101 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, but three different running backs managed to score for the Knights. UCF finished the game with 297 rushing yards.
“If they’re getting hits for 6, 10, 12 yards, then we gotta keep feeding them,” Milton said. “I think we have the deepest running back group in the country.”
What went wrong: The second half defense. All year, the Knights had looked significantly improved defensively after halftime. But that changed on Saturday when UCF, after allowing just three points in the first half, let Navy score 21 points in the second half. Of course, holding a team to 24 points if far from a bad game, but it was still surprising to see the defense let up so much after halftime.
Offensive player of the game: McKenzie Milton. Unsurprisingly, the Heisman contender has a stellar day for the Knights, completing 17 of 21 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a great day on the ground, rushing for 60 yards and a score.
Milton also passed Daunte Culpepper on Saturday as the all-time leading quarterback rusher for UCF.
“That’s a huge honor,” Milton said. “Daunte’s obviously a legend, not just here but in the NFL, so that’s huge. I’m pretty sure Darriel Mack will probably pass that up when his time comes.”
Defensive player of the game: Richie Grant. He continues to be one of the most consistent players on UCF’s roster and had another good game on Saturday. He finished with 16 total tackles and also forced a fumble, helping the Knights to have a solid defensive performance.