John Denton's Knights Insider

Sept. 21, 2009

By John Denton

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UCF delivered a huge second-half performance on both sides of the ball Saturday night, allowing the Knights to rally to beat Buffalo 23-17 at Bright House Networks Stadium. Next up is an ultra-important Conference USA showdown against East Carolina, but before we totally move ahead to that game, let's look back at the five things that we learned in Saturday night's game.

1. Brett Hodges has become a leader for UCF. I asked Hodges after the game if all of this was a little bit surreal for him, what with him transferring back close to home to play for the team that he rooted for as a kid and now rescuing the squad as its starting quarterback. ``I don't think I'm rescuing the team,'' Hodges said with a chuckle.

I disagree. The kind of leadership, poise and playmaking he has brought to UCF has saved the offense from another dismal showing again this season. Time and time again on Saturday night, Hodges kept plays alive by moving around in the pocket or progressing through his reads to find second and third receivers on plays.

His statistics spoke to his effectiveness: He completed all 10 of his passes in the second half and 15 of 20 for the game. Two of those incompletions were drops and two were batted or tipped passes. He passed for 141 yards and surprisingly ran for another 71 yards. He kept Buffalo's defense off balance, while steadying UCF's. And in the process, he did it while having the time of his life.

``I'm just trying to do everything I can out there in my last year of football,'' said Hodges, the transfer from Wake Forest. ``It's definitely a cool feeling growing up around here and coming back to play. I'm having a lot of fun.''

2. UCF's defense proved to be plenty optimistic. A point of emphasis going into Saturday's game was forcing more turnovers, especially snatching the Knights first interception of the season. Head coach George O'Leary and defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable preached all week that they wanted more tacklers around the ball, something that would allow players to be more aggressive in stripping balls lose.

A big reason behind UCF's 16-0 spree in the second half, allowing it to come back from a 17-7 deficit at the break, was the four turnovers created in the final two quarters. Jarvis Geathers created two of the turnovers by getting the ultimate triple play for a defensive lineman: Sack, forced fumble, recovery by UCF. He twice stopped drives in the fourth quarter by coming hard off the left end and jarring the ball free. Darius Nall recovered one fumble and Torrell Troup got the other.

Junior safety Derrick Hallman finally got the big interception that UCF was looking for with three minutes to play, when he tipped a pass into the air and corralled it. It stopped a Buffalo drive at the 42-yard line and sealed the victory.

3. There is plenty of depth emerging among the pass catchers. Seven different players caught passes Saturday night, four of them wide receivers. Jamar Newsome had six catches, two of them on third down to keep key drives alive. Hodges admitted that he and Newsome have a bond formed from their time early in the season as backups running with the second team offense.

``When I was running mostly with the second team, a lot of my reps would come with Jamar,'' Hodges said. ``We have a really good feel with one another and I think it's starting to help us out.''

Kamar Aiken, arguably UCF's best playmaker, caught three passes for 53 yards. His over-the-shoulder 39-yard grab on a third-down play was one of the highlights for the season so far.

``That was a really big momentum play for us that we needed at the time,'' Aiken said. ``Things kind of went in our direction a little bit after that play. That was a good one.''

Hodges believes in Aiken, knowing that he will go up and fight for a pass even if there's heavy coverage. Hodges knows that the 6-foot-2 Aiken has dynamic playmaking abilities, and he's not afraid to attack defenses deep down the field with the junior wide receiver from Miami.

``I had a feeling they would be in man-to-man and I told Kamar that if he got one-on-one coverage that I needed him to make a play for me,'' Hodges remembered. `` I threw it up there and he went up and got it. That was a huge catch for us.''

4. Michael Greco is back as a solid contributor for UCF. In what has to be considered one of the feel-good stories of the young season, senior quarterback-turned-defensive back Michael Greco tied for the team lead Saturday night with eight tackles.

Greco struggled mightily at quarterback last season while battling inconsistency and injury. When he was instructed that he would no longer be considered at quarterback, Greco could have left the team after graduating. Instead, he took advantage of his final year of eligibility and switched to safety.

He seems to have found a home in the secondary, registering nine tackles in three games so far. Saturday's game against Buffalo was his first start, and he didn't disappoint with five solo stops and three assists.

Greco seems to be a natural in at safety. He's tall, is an explosive leaper and he can really run. Having spent time at quarterback helps him with formation recognition and he understands where a quarterback is trying to go with the ball. Together, he and Hallman form a dynamic duo at safety for the Knights.

5. Honoring the 1958 Buffalo team was a tremendously classy thing to do. Civic leaders from Orange County and UCF took steps toward righting a terrible wrong in Orlando's history last Saturday when they honored Buffalo's 1958 squad. That Buffalo team declined an invite to the Tangerine Bowl 51 years ago when Orlando school district leaders refused to allow integrated play at the Citrus Bowl. The Bulls declined to play in the game if the team's two African-American players, Willie Evans and Mike Wilson, weren't allowed to participate in the game.

Last weekend, Buffalo's squad finally got its long-awaited trip to Orlando. Thirty-four of the 41 surviving players, coaches and staff members from that team were a part of this trip. Air Tran sponsored the flight to Central Florida and Loews supplied the lodging. And the '58 Bulls, dressed in their royal blue golf shirts, were honored at halftime of Saturday's game.

``For it to reverberate 50 years later, that's a long time,'' Evans said of the united moral stand that the team took back in 1958.

John Denton's Knights Insider runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.