John Denton's Knights Insider

Sept. 6, 2009

By John Denton

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OK, so it wasn't the easy, breezy season-opening victory that UCF had hoped for Saturday night, but there was still plenty of information culled from the Knights' 28-24 defeat of Samford at Bright House Networks Stadium.

Here are 10 things learned from a game in which UCF had to come from behind four times to win:

1. There's no quit in these Knights. UCF trailed 7-0, 14-13, 21-13 and 24-21 during the game, but fought back each time to re-take the lead. And the Knights went on top for good early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Brett Hodges threw the first touchdown pass of his UCF career. His nine-yard strike to Jamar Newsome provided the winning points for the Knights.

``Not quitting is something we already knew about ourselves, but it was something that was good to see when we were tested,'' said senior wide receiver Rocky Ross, who had five catches for 85 yards. ``It was good to see us to fight back. We were actually down quite a bit and that wasn't expected from us, but it's good to see nobody quit. One of the things that I actually was most impressed by was how positive everybody was even when we were down.''

2. Joe Burnett is gone, but the kick return game is still strong. True freshman Quincy McDuffie, an Orlando native, started his college career with a bang, returning the second-half kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. McDuffie made a nifty cut to elude two would-be tacklers and then turned on the jets and was never in danger of being caught from behind. McDuffie's return was the sixth-longest in school history.

Junior Darin Baldwin took another kick back 72 yards, changing direction mid-return by racing from the left hashmark to the right sideline. The long return set up a one-yard plunge from Brynn Harvey that allowed UCF to tie the game at 21-all. And Ross also returned a punt for 39 yards. He's returning punts because of his sure hands, but he also showed an ability to gain chunk yardage on returns.

3. Brett Hodges is calm, cool and effective. The fifth-year senior, who transferred from Wake Forest, replaced Rob Calabrese at quarterback midway through the second quarter and carefully guided UCF's offense. For the game, he hit on 10-of-17 passes for 129 yards, including a 21-yarder to Kamar Aiken to set up a score.

``Coach (Charlie) Taaffe said that both me and Rob (Calabrese) would play and they'd try to get us both in the first half,'' Hodges said. ``Rob didn't make any mistakes. Coach just decided to stay with what we had because we had some momentum going. We're in this together.''

Hodges did have one hiccup in the third quarter when his underneath pass was intercepted by Ryan Anderson and returned 41 yards for a score. Said Hodges: ``I didn't see the guy who I threw it to, that's for sure. It was a mental error on my part. It wasn't the look at that we saw in practice on that play. But I just put the play behind me.''

4. Samford is a Football Championship Series member, but it is a team that possesses plenty of talent at the skill positions. UCF will see other teams this season that don't have the experience and talent at the skill positions that the Bulldogs did. Chris Evans, who is on track to become Samford's all-time leading rusher, ran for 81 yards. And quarterback Dustin Taliaferro kept the UCF defense off balance with his ability to find open receivers and elude the rush. He completed 20 of 34 passes for 141 yards and a score on a n ice lob pass.

5. Brynn Harvey can be a workhorse back. UCF coach George O'Leary said early last week that he didn't think Harvey was a 30-carry back, but the talented sophomore lugged the ball 31 times for 111 yards Saturday night. Harvey also had the first multi-score game of his UCF career, running for two short touchdowns. Harvey did wear down somewhat as the game progressed, cramping up in the fourth quarter. But he still had enough strength and stamina left to seal the game with several time-consuming runs.

6. UCF's defensive line stuffed the run, but needs to provide more pressure. UCF's vaunted defensive line, easily the team's biggest strength, held Samford to just 78 rushing yards on 30 carries. The 2.6 yards a rush allowed was an encouraging number. O'Leary was mildly disappointed that the Knights didn't do more to harass Samford's Taliferro in the pocket, dropping him just once for a seven-yard loss.

``We're kind of disappointed in how we played because we know we can do better than that,'' said senior tackle Torrell Troup. ``We let the quarterback roll out of the pocket too much and we have to do a better job of keeping contain.''

7. There will be some growing pains with the young defensive backs. UCF lost all four starters in the secondary to graduation and there was little doubt UCF's new starters would be tested early and often. Cornerback Justin Boddie was in position to make a play on a lob pass early in the game, but allowed wide out Riley Hawkins to go over him for a touchdown catch.

UCF's defensive backs were burned early in the third quarter for a 67-yard touchdown on a wide receiver pass. Hawkins got 10 yards behind the defense for an easy catch-and-run score.

8. Kamar Aiken is back to being an elite wide receiver. Now, that looked like the Kamar Aiken who was a dynamic play-maker for UCF two seasons ago as a true freshman. Aiken missed the first four games of last season with a stress fracture in his foot and was never fully healthy all season. But he was back in true form Saturday night, catching two balls for 42 yards. He went up high for a 21-yard catch near the goal line to set up a UCF touchdown. He shook free for what would have been a touchdown catch, but he was blasted by Samford's safety. But all in all, Aiken looks like an offensive threat that UCF sorely lacked last season.

9. The kicking game is still a work in progress. Freshman kicker Jamie Boyle instilled confidence in the UCF coaching staff by making kicks of 57 and 48 yards in practice last week. But he struggled mightily in his first game at UCF, missing two field goals and an extra point. His final kick was a low knuckler that was tipped at the line and bounced off the crossbar. Said O'Leary: ``He just wasn't finishing his kicks. I'm disappointed in our kicking. I expected more.''

10. UCF's crowd was into the game from the start. The crowd of 34,486 filled the parking lots with some boisterous tailgating and made itself a factor throughout the game. The crowd was loud from the start, rumbling some when UCF struggled offensively and exploding with noise upon each score.

Said Hodges: ``The crowd was great. It was certainly louder than what I was used to at Wake Forest.''

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