John Denton's Knights Insider

Oct. 19, 2009

By John Denton

Most of the record crowd of 48,453 Saturday night at Bright House Networks Stadium left disheartened and cold after UCF came up short in its attempt to upend No. 9 Miami. When the Knights missed two scoring chances it sabotaged a good effort and left them with a 27-7 loss to the `Canes.

It was indeed a stinging loss considering how much UCF poured into what very well could have been the biggest home game in school history. Defensive end Darius Nall described it as "heartbreaking," while wide receiver A.J. Guyton dubbed the defeat "very, very frustrating."

Before we move on to Saturday's return to Conference USA play against Rice, let's look back at the five things that we learned from Saturday night:

1. UCF had a huge chance to put a true scare into the `Canes.
Trailing just 17-7 after quarterback Brett Hodges hit Rocky Ross for an 8-yard touchdown strike, UCF regained possession at the 2-yard line and seemed poised to get back in the game. But what followed was the kind of nightmare that will haunt UCF for weeks, if not months, to come.

An option to the short side of the field proved to be disastrous, especially against Miami's swarming speed, and Brynn Harvey was dropped for a 4-yard loss on the play. Hodges admitted afterward that he was confused by the defensive look that Miami gave him on the play and he wishes he had the entire thing to do again.

"An option play was called and they kind of got me on the look,'' Hodges recalled. "I was trying to decide whether I should keep it or pitch it and I should have just eaten it for a no-yard gain."

An incomplete pass followed and then on third-and-goal Hodges was hit as he threw and the wobbly pass was intercepted by Miami. Getting no points there seemed to let the steam out of UCF's push and the game was essentially over.

"That was the turning point in the game," UCF coach George O'Leary said.

2. UCF's defense, especially the front seven, played well enough to win.
Miami super sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris was harassed all night and UCF dropped him for sacks six times. And the truly impressive thing was that UCF got to the quarterback by whipping their man in one-on-one situations instead of having to send all-out blitzes and leave the secondary exposed.

Senior Cory Hogue dropped Harris twice for sacks. Defensive ends Darius Nall, Bruce Miller and Jarvis Geathers all got to the quarterback once, while defensive endDavid Williams dropped Harris once for a 6-yard loss.

Harris did pass 293 yards and hit on four 20-plus-yard passes, but UCF's defensive backs did a respectable job of keeping the nation's fastest receiving corps in front of them. UCF limited Miami's run-after-catch yards to a minimum with some stellar tackling by the linerbackers and defensive backs. "We had our cover people there for the most part, but they just didn't make a play on the ball," O'Leary said. "We got to close up the coverage better."

3. UCF's troublesome woes in the red zone continued.
As deflating as the failures from the 2-yard line were in the third quarter, the no-points start to the game was almost as equally frustrating.

UCF mixed the run and pass beautifully on its first drive of the game, marching 65 yards in 12 plays. Hodges had key passes to Brian Watters (11 yards) and Kamar Aiken (35 yards) on the drive to seemingly put UCF in a position to take an early lead.

But the drive stalled at the 15-yard line following two stuffed run plays and an incomplete pass, forcing Nick Cattoi's 32-yard field goal attempt. The ball rotated awkwardly off Cattoi's foot and sailed wide left.

The stalled drive and missed field goal robbed UCF's crowd of a chance to explode early in the game. The drive proved to be UCF's best of the game and the moment certainly could have given the Knights some much-needed momentum. "We had the mindset to come out and hit them in the mouth right away and drive the ball,'' Guyton said. ``Going all the way down the field and getting no points out of it, that was tough for us.''

4. The Knights came out of the game beaten up and bruised, but not broken.
Several Knights needed medical assistance following one of the most physical games of the season.

Hodges was sacked twice, hit hard a half-dozen times by Miami's blitzing linebackers and defensive backs and knocked out of the game on the third-quarter interception near the goal line. He had to leave the game briefly on the first drive of the game when he was popped just as he let the ball go on the 35-yard pass to Aiken.

But it was the helmet to the elbow - the hit that resulted in the crushing interception - that hurt Hodges the most. X-rays proved to be negative and he hopes to be back on the field on Saturday against Rice.

"I was hurting pretty good there. I got blind-sided and hit pretty good," Hodges said. "(The elbow) was really tight and I tried to get it loose, but couldn't."

Miller, UCF's most productive defensive end, needed help from the field late in the game following a collision. Linebacker Lawrence Young also left the game early with an apparent injury.

5. UCF certainly knows how to put on a big game.
This one had a distinct big-game feel to it for days leading up to Saturday, and UCF's fans delivered by producing an electric atmosphere for the game. From fans honking their cars, to message board smack talk to fans being loud and in their seats early, UCF's fanbase responded in a huge way for this game.

The crowd of 48,453 was the largest (and likely the loudest) to ever see a game at Bright House Networks Stadium. It surpassed the 46,805 that was at last September's overtime thriller against South Florida.

It also easily topped the 45,622 who saw the stadium-opening game against No. 6 Texas in 2007 and the 44,128 who attended the Conference USA title game against Tulsa in December of 2007.

UCF and its fans can only hope for more games like this. Athletics Director Keith Tribble and O'Leary have talked openly about their desire to play more in-state rivals like Miami, South Florida and possibly even Florida and Florida State. But the Knights refuse to do two-for-one schedule agreements, meaning after the conclusion of the Texas series they'll no longer travel to the opponent's venue for two games in exchange for one game in Orlando. By playing in a desirable location and with facilities second to none in the state, UCF shouldn't have to ever bow down to other programs when it comes to scheduling.

Let's hope there are more nights like Saturday. Even in defeat, that was a special game that Knights fans won't soon forget.

John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.