Knights Insider UCF-Houston Recap


Nov. 14, 2009

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By John Denton

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Drenched in a mixture of sweat from a long, hot afternoon and ice water from a joyous locker room celebration, UCF defensive end Bruce Miller recounted a story from the night before when the Knights were shown inspirational footage from legendary boxer Muhammad Ali.

The video montage of Ali showed him taking one punch after another only to answer the bell each time and come back to knock out an opponent. Then, after UCF's players were worked into a frenzy, they were told how the Ali link would be a fitting metaphor for Saturday's showdown against No. 12 Houston at Bright House Networks Stadium.

``Like Ali, we took some punches and we took them early and we still kept fighting back,'' Miller said after UCF's thrilling 37-32 defeat of Houston. ``That was the moral of the story today, fighting back.''

UCF battled back from 10-0 and 17-3 deficits and trailed at the half for the ninth time in 10 games, but it still had a good enough of a mixture of opportunistic offense and gritty defense to pull off a bit of history.

The Knights (6-4 overall, 4-2 in Conference USA play) beat a ranked Football Bowl Subdivision team for the first time, a span of 23 games. It was also the first victory against a ranked team in 10 tries in George O'Leary's six seasons at UCF.

``It's a great win,'' O'Leary gushed. ``It's outstanding and sometime you use something like this to catapult your program and catapult your school. It's great. It's a great win for the program and there was no gimme in that one. We worked for it and all three phases of our team played well.''

The victory, which made the Knights bowl eligible, was also significant because it kept UCF in the hunt in the East Division of C-USA. The Knights still need East Carolina to lose twice more, and the Pirates still have tough games remaining against Tulsa (tonight) and Southern Miss.

And should the Knights win out and get back to the conference title game, a potential rematch against Houston could be at Bright House Networks Stadium once again.

``This was so huge because it means we're bowl eligible and our hopes in the conference are still very much alive,'' said UCF quarterback Brett Hodges, who hit on 21 of 25 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown.

A UCF defense that forced three turnovers and an offense that controlled the ball almost twice as much as Houston's potent offense (39.5 minutes to 20.5 minutes) helped the Knights bring an end to Case Keenum's bid for the Heisman. The junior quarterback entered the game on pace to break the NCAA record for passing yards in a season, but managed only 377 yards. He was picked off once, sacked twice and forced to hurry many of his 56 attempts because of UCF's swarming pressure.

``We were not able to do the things that we wanted to do, whether it was us making mistakes or them just playing really hard,'' Keenum said. ``They are really good up front. They have a great front four and some big, strong linebackers. They did a good job covering downfield and putting pressure on me. We could never get it going.''

Keenum torched UCF for a 51-yard touchdown and 179 pass yards in the first quarter, but the Knights refused to wilt. All along the UCF sideline, defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said players kept mentioning the Ali clips and talked of taking punches and responding.

``Our kids executed the plan and I couldn't be more proud of a defensive group of players that I've ever coached,'' said Huxtable, whose voice rose with each word. ``All week we set the tone with the defense about answering the bell and being ready to fight the next round. We talked about us being the Muhammed Ali and they were the Joe Frazier.

``We just kept talking about answering the bell and being ready to fight. The kids were talking about that on the sidelines, they all bought in and they did a heck of a job.''

Down 17-10 at the half, UCF responded with its most important stretch of football this season. UCF was no stranger to being behind, having trailed in every home game this season and in every game except the Rice rout. UCF strung together scoring drives of 51 yards and 85 yards to spring to a 23-17 lead. Brynn Harvey's 41-yard sprint, one of his three TD runs on the day, was a thing of beauty as he hit the line at full speed and never broke stride as he crossed the goal line.

And when UCF finished with a flourish, getting a 24-touchdown pass from Hodges to freshman Quincy McDuffie and a seven-yard plunge from Harvey, the Knights led 37-20 and the road was paved for one of the biggest wins in school history. Harvey, who rested a sore ankle last week against Texas, looked fresh on Saturday as he ran for 139 yards.

UCF had to survive two late touchdown passes from Keenum and two onside kicks, but when the game was complete UCF finally had a big win and the crowd of 34,437 pulsated with emotion.

It was how the entire day unfolded - with UCF's defense holding Houston to 154 yards less than its season average and the Knights offense gashing the Cougars through the air and on the ground - the made the moment even sweeter, offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said.

``We couldn't have written a better script that this,'' Taaffe said. ``Beating a ranked program the way we did, it's a signature win for our program.''

John Denton's Knights Insider appears several times per week on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.