UCF returned to Spectrum Stadium on Saturday night for the first time since Aug. 31, and did so in a big way. The Knights used a 17-0 second quarter to roll through Memphis by a score of 40-13.
“That was an unbelievable performance by our guys,” UCF coach Scott Frost said. “They were hungry to play, we beat a really good team tonight and we outplayed them.”
UCF (3-0, 1-0 AAC) started fast, coming up with a touchdown run by junior Taj McGowan to finish off a 17-play, 92-yard drive that ran 6:49 off the clock. Memphis (3-1, 0-1 AAC) responded quickly by taking a 7-6 lead, but from there, it was all Knights.
After a 28-yard field goal by redshirt junior Matthew Wright gave UCF a 9-7 lead, sophomore Adrian Killins busted through the line for a 96-yard touchdown to extend that lead. The run was the longest from scrimmage in school and conference history.
“I have to give credit to my o-line,” Killins said. “To be back and doing the things that I’m doing for my team to win games, it’s just a blessing. It’s nothing but great things.”
On the ensuing possession, junior Mike Hughes intercepted a tipped pass to get the ball back. The Knights then added to their lead with a 34-yard touchdown pass from sophomore McKenzie Milton to redshirt junior Tre’Quan Smith. UCF took a 23-7 lead into halftime, and it only got better from there.
The Knights shut out the Tigers throughout the entire second half, down to the last play when they padded the stats with a late touchdown. The offense put up another 17, which kept Memphis from having any hopes of a comeback.
UCF outgained Memphis 603-396. It was the team’s first 600-yard game since Nov. 16, 2013 against Temple. The Knights converted on 10 of 18 third downs while holding the Tigers to just four of 12.
What we learned: Simply, UCF is for real. The Knights picked apart the preseason AAC West favorites and didn’t take their foot off the pedal when they took a big lead into halftime. After letting several second half leads get away last year, UCF has shown through three games that it can keep putting the pressure on.
“It’s a complement to our team how well they’ve responded at the beginning of the last two second halves,” Frost said. “We had a good lead up in Maryland and I challenged them to come out and play harder and we got a stop and got a score. Tonight, the same thing. We got a stop and we got a score.”
UCF outscored Memphis 17-6 in the second half to put the game away. The Knights are 3-0 with three blowout wins, which may very well warrant a top 25 ranking in the coming days.
What went right: Nearly everything went right for UCF. The offense got out to a quick start, which gave the defense a little bit of time to get settled in. For the most part, Milton made his throws and made plays with his legs. He was helped greatly by a 350-yard rushing performance, which was the program’s first of over 300 yards since Sept. 9, 2011 against Charleston Southern.
“It helps when you get 96 on one play,” Frost said. “A lot of credit goes to our receivers blocking downfield, our quarterback making good decisions, our running back hitting holes better than we did in game one and our o-line getting better every week. When you can run the ball, everything else opens up.”
Everything else did open up, as Milton was able to throw for 253 yards and three touchdowns.
What went wrong: Not a whole lot went wrong for the Knights. If anything, UCF gave up too many big plays. Frost talked earlier in the week about the importance of preventing those big plays, but the defense still gave up a few. A couple of those big plays came from coverage breakdowns in the secondary, but the unit still managed to keep Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson in check.
“You got the [defensive backs] with tight coverage, you got guys that’s gonna make sure we put pressure on them,” redshirt senior linebacker Shaquem Griffin said. “That’s the whole thing. We trusted each other out there.”
The senior completed 27 of his 49 attempts for 321 yards and a late touchdown, but threw three interceptions and fumbled once. The fumble was forced by Griffin, who was also credited with a sack.
Offensive player of the game: Adrian Killins. UCF already led 9-7 at the time of his 96-yard touchdown run, but the score was a spark that the Knights needed to really get things going. The long run was a momentum-shifter for UCF, as it went on to dominate the rest of the game.
“AK is the type of guy—he’s a big play waiting to happen,” Frost said. “If he touches it 12 times, something good is going to happen.”
Killins continued to make plays all night. He finished with 115 yards on the ground, but also added 64 receiving yards and a touchdown on five catches.
Defensive player of the game: Mike Hughes. After joining UCF late in the offseason, the former North Carolina cornerback has made an immediate impact in the first three games. He came up with his second interception in as many weeks tonight, while playing a part in locking down the Memphis offense.
“It’s a blessing to be in this position,” Hughes said. “To be with this group of guys that I’m around, I couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere.”
Hughes’ interception was part of a huge swing for the Knights, coming after Killins’ touchdown run. It set up another UCF touchdown, which pushed the lead to 23-7 before halftime.
UCF returns to the field next Saturday at Cincinnati. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.