No. 19 UCF won its 15th consecutive game on Saturday, beating South Carolina State 38-0 to secure its first shutout since the 2016 season opener, which was against the same opponent.
“We certainly can play better,” Knights coach Josh Heupel said. “There were times that we were really efficient and got things going. We just didn’t do enough of it consistently all night long. There’s some areas that we can improve on.”
In the passing game, the Knights (2-0, 1-0 AAC) looked sluggish. Junior quarterback McKenzie Milton was off from the start, completing just 10 of his 23 passes in the first half for 130 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. He picked up his play a bit in the third quarter, but still finished with just 243 passing yards and a touchdown on 21-of-39 passing.
Even with Milton’s poor start, UCF quickly got out to a commanding lead. The backfield came through with a strong performance, totaling 316 yards on the ground. That impressive effort started in the first half with junior Adrian Killins, who ran for 87 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries. Sophomore Otis Anderson was effective as well, picking up 42 yards and a score on eight touches. Fellow sophomore Greg McCrae later broke off a 32-yard touchdown run in the third quarter as part of his five-carry, 62-yard performance.
“I’ve never been a part of a running back corps like I am now,” Killins said. “I believe that we’re the closest position on the team. We’ve been on this long road and long journey for a long time. The RBs, we’re a special group and we’re just going to keep doing what we gotta do to help our team win games.”
The backfield picked up Milton on the offensive side of the ball, but the Knights defense was also impressive in the shutout victory. The unit, playing in its second game under new defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, allowed just 257 yards and forced three turnovers. UCF was also solid on special teams, blocking a field goal and covering well on a second-half punt by Mac Loudermilk.
The announced crowd of 43,269 was the second-largest for a UCF home opener, only falling behind the 2007 opener against Texas, which also marked the opening of the stadium.
What We Learned: McKenzie Milton isn’t exempt from having bad games. The junior wasn’t himself in the first half, turning the ball over three times on a couple of forced throws mixed with some miscommunication. After last week’s stellar five-touchdown performance at UConn, Saturday night was a step back.
“[It was] definitely a sub-par performance today by myself and the offense as well,” Milton said. “I didn’t get into a great rhythm, missed some easy throws and S.C. State made some good plays too.”
The final stat line of 243 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions looks rough, especially when it comes to the signal-caller’s Heisman Trophy hopes. After last week’s game, his odds shot up significantly. Following Saturday night’s game, they’ll surely take a hit.
What Went Right: The defense as a whole looked much better than it did in week one, holding the Bulldogs to just 257 yards while forcing three turnovers. The group’s tackling, which was a problem against dual-threat quarterback David Pindell last week, improved greatly on Saturday against yet another mobile quarterback.
“I love the way we played defensively,” Heupel said. “The turnovers were huge, especially early in the football game… I don’t care who you’re playing, if you’re shutting them down [like that], you’re doing a fantastic job.”
Randy Shannon’s defense held South Carolina State quarterbacks to just six-of-19 passing for 80 yards and three interceptions. The Bulldogs fared a bit better on the ground, putting up 177 rushing yards, but this performance was far better for the Knights. They consistently caused trouble in the backfield, racking up four sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
What Went Wrong: Milton’s performance was the big issue on Saturday, which meant top playmakers at wide receiver were unable to hit their stride. Redshirt sophomore Tre Nixon caught three passes for 53 yards, but 38 of those came on one play. Junior Dredrick Snelson picked up 45 yards on five catches and Otis Anderson caught just two for nine yards. Sophomore Gabe Davis was the only receiver to put up big numbers, hauling in nine passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.
The passing game as a whole looked sloppy, starting with Milton’s three interceptions. Heupel didn’t seem all that concerned after the game, but acknowledged that something was off with his quarterback.
“There’s gonna be nights where you’re just a little bit out of rhythm,” he said. “It’s good to come away on a night like that with a win and it’s good on a night like that to still move the football.”
UCF did put up 38 points, marking its 15th straight game of putting 30-plus on the board. As a whole, the offense still managed to total 566 yards. There were some issues, but nothing to be too concerned about.
Offensive Player of the Game: Adrian Killins. The speedy running back carried the load for the UCF offense in the first half while its quarterback struggled. He did most of his damage in the first 30 minutes, finding the end zone twice, before coming out of the game in the second half.
“It all starts up front with the o-line,” Killins said. “The o-line played another phenomenal game today. Our o-line is coming together well and the coaches are instilling great things into them.”
With his two touchdowns, Killins now has three in the first two games. Gabe Davis was also a positive for UCF as he picked up a 100-yard receiving game, the first of his career.
Defensive Player of the Game: Richie Grant. After making his first career start last week and coming up with two turnovers, he showed up again on Saturday night. The redshirt sophomore was the team’s second-leading tackler with seven in addition to hauling in his second interception of the season. He was also credited with a pass breakup.
With veteran safety Tre Neal transferring to Nebraska over the summer, there seemed to be some uncertainty about how the defense would handle his absence. Through two games, Grant has pushed all of those worries away.
Should the weather allow it, UCF will hit the road next week to take on North Carolina (0-2, 0-0 ACC). Kickoff is set for noon.