Saturday afternoon was an up-and-down affair for No. 18 UCF, but the Knights prevailed over UConn, 49-24, at Spectrum Stadium.
“I told the team after [the game], I’m amazed and proud at what they’ve accomplished,” UCF coach Scott Frost said. “It’s hard to be 9-0. It’s awesome when you get a win and you don’t quite play your best.”
The Knights (9-0, 6-0 AAC) roared out to a 21-3 lead in the first quarter of Saturday’s game before cooling off in the second and third quarters. The Huskies (3-7, 2-5 AAC) were able to hang around thanks to some self-inflicted issues for the Knights. The offense especially struggled in the third quarter, failing to score. It was just the second quarter of the season that the unit was held scoreless, with the other coming on Sept. 23 at Maryland.
“It was tough,” sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton said. “We got behind the sticks, UConn was playing tough and brought a lot of pressure. We just weren’t on our game today on the offensive side of the ball, but we made enough plays to get some points on the board.”
The Huskies got within 28-17 early in the third quarter, but the Knights were tough enough on defense to compensate for some of the offensive struggles. UConn went just six-for-15 on third downs, with UCF coming up with several stops on third-and-short situations.
The offense came alive again in the fourth quarter, allowing the Knights to coast to a 49-24 victory. Milton finished the day with 311 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, 52 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. It was his fifth 300-yard passing game of the season, which ranks him third in program history.
What we learned: The UCF offense is human after all. The Knights were outscored 14-7 in the second and third quarters due to mistakes and lack of execution. Those struggles were on the heels of a less-than-stellar offensive output at SMU last week. The hot start on Saturday against UConn felt like the norm for the Knights, but they uncharacteristically fell into some trouble in the middle of the game.
“Once we put up 21 points in the first quarter, everybody started playing down to a level where we shouldn’t have been playing,” freshman wide receiver Gabriel Davis said. “We started getting a little complacent.”
Despite that, they bounced back. After a scoreless third quarter, UCF responded with a 21-point fourth to walk away with a comfortable win. Davis was a bright spot on the offense throughout the day, catching eight passes for 95 yards.
What went right: Offensively, the Knights continued to put up huge numbers, even with their struggles in the third quarter. They put up 49 points and scored six of their seven touchdowns on drives of three and a half minutes or less. By the end of the day, they totaled 519 yards.
“We’re kind of getting to the point that if we don’t have 38 points and 400 yards at halftime, then everybody wonders what’s wrong,” Frost said. “It’s not always that easy. Other players are going to make plays and we’re going to make some mistakes. When you look up and you didn’t have your best day and you have 49 points, then those are good problems.”
UCF has now scored 40 points or more in six of its nine games this season, while putting up 450-plus yards in eight games.
What went wrong: Penalties continued to be an issue for UCF on Saturday afternoon. Even with all of the success the team has had throughout this season, clean games have been hard to come by. UCF finished the day with 10 penalties for 84 yards.
“I think we made some mistakes and hurt ourselves a few times,” Frost said. “Those are the things you can’t do against really good football teams. We’ve got some of those on our schedule coming up, so we have some stuff to clean up.”
The Knights were able to overcome penalty yardage throughout the day, using their big-play ability to erase some mistakes. On a positive note, UCF was able to take advantage of UConn’s mistakes. The Huskies finished with eight penalties for 79 yards.
Offensive player of the game: Redshirt junior Tre’Quan Smith. The big-play ability of the UCF offense often comes courtesy of Smith, who continues to shine in 2017 with the Knights’ prolific offense. He finished Saturday’s game with seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. It was the 10th 100-yard receiving day of his career, which ranks him third in school history.
“He’s a great, humble player. He works hard,” Davis said. “Everything that he does, I try to mimic. For him to make as many plays as he does and not even talk about it, that just shows the kind of person he is.”
Smith had a major block on a 65-yard touchdown run by freshman Otis Anderson, who also had a big game. Anderson lost a fumble in the third quarter, but came back with the long touchdown run to finish his day with 84 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. It was the first multi-touchdown game of his career.
“It was a salute game and my dad was in the service,” Anderson said. “I had a lot of emotions flowing through me. My mom’s birthday was yesterday, so I wanted to have a great game. The fumble kind of threw me off, but the team didn’t let me keep my head down for too long. I had to get back up and make the next play. So, my game kind of went from up to down, back to up.”
Defensive player of the game: Redshirt senior Shaquem Griffin. The leader of the defense came up big in several key spots throughout the day, finishing with five tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry.
“I can’t make plays without my guys helping me,” Griffin said. “We always talk to each other all the time and say ‘help me help you.’ When you’ve got guys that will sacrifice themselves for somebody else to make plays, that’s a perfect defense.”
Junior quarterback David Pindell ran for 96 yards on the day, showing off some impressive elusiveness. The Knights still managed to rack up three sacks, one of which came from Griffin after Pindell avoided multiple defenders.
Junior Mike Hughes came up with another big play on Saturday, intercepting Pindell in the first half.
UCF returns to action next Saturday (Nov. 18) at Temple (5-5, 3-3 AAC) before returning home on Black Friday to host USF (8-1, 5-1 AAC).