ORLANDO (UCFKnights.com) – In a game that featured 92 points and 1,300 yards of total offense, No. 9 UCF outlasted Temple 52-40 at Spectrum Stadium Thursday night. The victory put the Knights in sole possession of first place in the American Athletic Conference East Division.
Junior McKenzie Milton returned to the starting quarterback position after missing UCF’s last outing vs. East Carolina. He was 17-of-33 for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Michael Colubiale caught two of Milton’s 17 completions, but both were for touchdowns.
“Whenever McKenzie is back there he does a great job and we always know the offense is going to roll, no matter what,” Colubiale said. “But it meant a lot tonight, he showed he could throw the ball down the field a lot.”
UCF was very balanced on offense, racking up 318 yards rushing and 312 passing. Sophomore running back Greg McCrae led the ground attack with 188 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
“He runs really hard and I think he helps our offense out a lot,” Colubiale said. “But I think one thing that helps our offense (as well) is the offensive line. They opened up some big holes for him [McCrae] to run through. And he just does a good job getting those extra yards.”
While the Knights’ offense was on fire, Temple was red hot as well, putting up 670 yards. The difference in the ballgame came down to the UCF defense making plays when they absolutely had to. Both teams scored on eight possessions. However, the Owls were forced to settle for a pair of field goals, when touchdowns may have made the difference. The Black & Gold defenders also rose up in a key situation in the fourth quarter.
A Temple touchdown with 9:44 remaining in the game pulled the Owls within two points, 42-40. Temple’s two-point conversion attempt was foiled by senior defensive lineman A.J. Wooten and senior defensive back Kyle Gibson, preserving the lead for UCF. The Knights’ offense responded with a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that gave the Knights a two-score advantage, 49-40, with 8:16 remaining. Senior running back Taj McGowan capped the drive with a 10-yard burst to paydirt, one of his two rushing TDs in the contest.
For the second time in the last three games, the Knights found themselves trailing at halftime. Temple scored late in the first half to take a 34-28 edge at the intermission. But the Knights responded in the third quarter, as usual. A McCrae 32-yard TD run and a 19-yard Milton-to-Colubiale TD pass put the Knights on top 42-34 heading into the final frame.
“I think our team is competitive calm,” head coach Josh Heupel said of how they handled trailing at the half. “They are willing to come out and continue to play and compete. I think we have smart players that, when we make adjustments as coaches, they're able to go out and execute those things and do it at a really high level.”
UCF has outscored its opponents 87-16 in the third quarter this season. The Knights haven’t allowed more than seven points in the third quarter all year and have now held their opponents scoreless in the third quarter five times in eight games this season.
The following is a look at the contest, quarter-by-quarter:
Temple opened the scoring with a field goal. But the Knights responded with a 55-second TD drive. The Owls responded with one of Anthony Russo’s four touchdown passes to go back on top 10-7. Colubiale caught his first TD to put the Knights up 14-10. But the pinball machine continued to light up as Temple scored on a 70-yard TD strike to lead 17-14 after one period.
After a 31-point first quarter, the second quarter was just as high-scoring. Russo added a rushing touchdown on a fake field goal early in the second quarter to put the Owls up 24-14. Milton answered with a rushing touchdown of his own on a 1-yard scramble to make it 24-21. The defense held Temple to a field goal to make it 27-21. McGowan’s first rushing TD of the contest put the Knights back on top 28-24. But a Temple TD pass with 18 seconds left in the half gave the Owls a 34-28 edge at halftime.
UCF opened the second half with a quick strike to regain the lead. McCrae carried for all 66 yards on a four-play touchdown drive, going 32 yards to paydirt to put the Knights up 35-34. UCF was up 42-34 when Milton faded away from pressure and lofted one to Colubiale, who made a one-handed grab for the TD.
Russo threw his fourth TD pass of the game with 9:44 remaining, but the two-point conversion failed to keep the Knights on top 42-40. McGowan made it 49-40 midway through the fourth quarter. Matt Wright buried a 32-yard field goal with 1:32 remaining to put the contest out of reach and account for the final score.