John Denton's Knights Insider

Nov. 2, 2009

By John Denton

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It might sound cliché or simply like random coachspeak - ``play all 60 minutes'' - but that's a theory that the UCF Knights took to heart Sunday night at Bright House Networks Stadium.

And because they did just that - they played all 60 minutes - they emerged with one of the most thrilling victories in school history.

When UCF scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns - the final one coming in dramatic fashion with 23 seconds remaining - it allowed the Knights to pull off an improbable 21-20 defeat of Marshall.

``That was a good team,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said. ``We basically hung in there. As I tell the players all the time, `it's a 60-minute game for a reason.' I'm so happy for our players.''

The Knights never quit - not when they were down 13 points most of the second half; not when a fourth-down pass and a scoring opportunity fell incomplete with 2:40 to play; and certainly not when Marshall's offense had the ball and was content to simply run out the clock.

UCF standout defensive end Bruce Miller tore the ball out, Josh Robinson recovered and UCF had one last chance with 2:12 to play. And after a 19-yard strike to Kamar Aiken to get UCF to the 1-yard line, quarterback Brett Hodges found Rocky Ross for the tying score. Kicker Nick Cattoi booted through the game-winning point, and Miller made it stand up with a game-ending sack.

While clearly some of the 35,676 in the crowd gave up and headed for the exits early, UCF never did. Before we move ahead to next Saturday's game against No. 2 Texas, here are five things that we learned from Sunday night's thriller:

1. UCF's players never dropped their heads, never stopped fighting.
Even when things looked bad most of the night, UCF kept surging and fighting to the end. UCF's defense got key stops throughout the second half, giving up just one field goal in the final two quarters.

``We just kept fighting our butts off all night,'' UCF standout defensive tackle Torrell Troup said. ``The coaches tell us to play with effort and enthusiasm and we did that all night long.''

When the fourth-down pass fell incomplete with 2:40 to play, Hodges lay sprawled across the 34-yard line and stared up at the sky. But he didn't give up on the game, cheering on the defense to force a turnover. Hodges said he never lost the faith, and no one along the sideline did either.

``It was tough for us then, but we couldn't just sit over there and just sulk,'' Hodges said. ``Our mindset was that the defense would get us the ball back. That kind of play doesn't happen often, but somehow it did (Sunday).''

2. Bruce Miller had a game for the ages.
Miller was an unstoppable force all night, wreaking havoc in Marshall's offense. With 10 tackles, three tackle for losses, 2.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries, he was in the Marshall backfield almost as much as Thundering Herd star tailback Darius Marshall.

But Miller's finest moment of the night - and maybe his UCF career - was his strip of Marshall quarterback Brian Anderson. Miller called his shot before the play, telling his teammates to hold up the quarterback and he would strip the ball loose for a fumble.

And that's just what happened even though Anderson had the ball wrapped up with two arms. Miller pulled at the ball the way a lumberjack would starting a chainsaw, and he got the desired result he was seeking. Freshman cornerback Josh Robinson was there for the recovery, giving UCF one more shot at the win.

Said Miller: ``Somebody had to step up there and make a play for us and I just so happened to be in the right place to make that play.''

Miller, the odds-on favorite to win the C-USA Defensive Player of the Week award, is in the right place quite a bit these days. He leads the conference in sacks (nine) and tackles for a loss (11.5). Miller likes to credit his success to the fact that Torrell Troup, Travis Timmons and Cory Hogue get up the middle, but clearly he is one of the league's elite players.

3. This is not a recording - Brett Hodges had a game for the ages.
Hodges threw for two touchdowns and a career-best 342 yards, the most in school history since Ryan Schneider's UCF record 497 yards in 2003.

What was most impressive was how Hodges repeatedly stood in the pocket to allow plays develop and bounced back up each time from big hits. After the game, he hobbled out of the locker room on a gimpy knee and needed another icepack strapped around his sore ribs.

O'Leary was concerned throughout the game that Hodges might have to come out, but the senior quarterback from Winter Springs repeatedly waved him off. O'Leary joked early in the season that Hodges was so calm that it was as if he's asleep in the huddle. But late Sunday night O'Leary was gushing about Hodges' toughness, feeling that it spreads throughout the team.

``He's a tough kid,'' the coach said, referring to his transfer quarterback from Wake Forest. ``He got hit a couple of times and I was watching him and he'd say, `No, I'm all right.' He kept waving me off. He's a tough kid and I really think that's contagious for our football team.''

4. In this showdown of the unstoppable force (Darius Marshall) and the immoveable object (UCF's defense), the Knights prevailed.
Marshall, the junior back many consider a top NFL prospect, came into Sunday's game ranked second in the nation in rushing at 136 yards a game. And UCF's defense entered as the nation's 11th toughest unit against the run, one spot ahead of No. 1 ranked Florida.

Chalk this one up to UCF's stout run defense. Marshall needed 28 carries to get to 80 yards, the lowest total he's run for all season. He averaged a paltry 2.9 yards a carry and his longest run of the night was for just 10 yards.

Clearly, this performance was no fluke from coordinator Dave Huxtable's defense. UCF is atop Conference USA in scoring defense (19.2 points per game), rushing defense (87.8 yards per game) and total defense (330 yards per game).

UCF did yield 237 yards through the air to Marshall, but it did register three sacks, eight tackles for losses, four pass breakups and five quarterback hurries.

5. This win keeps the Knights smack-dab in the conference race.
UCF still needs some help, but the Knights still have life in their bid to win the East Division and get to the C-USA title game. East Carolina is atop the East at 4-1. UCF, Marshall, Southern Miss and UAB are locked in a four-way tie for second at 3-2.

The Knights need to win their final three conference games against No. 15 Houston, Tulane and UAB and then hope that East Carolina loses twice more. The Pirates still have tough road games left against Tulsa and Southern Miss.

``First and foremost, we've got to do our jobs and take care of our business,'' said safety Derrick Hallman. ``If we can win out and take care of our business maybe things will work out for us. We just have to hope others will lose, but that's out of our control.''

UCF needs just one more win to become bowl eligible - which would qualify as quite an accomplishment after last season's 4-8 disappointment. UCF is a massive 36-point underdog this week against Texas, but if the Knights can pull a shocker against Houston in two weeks and find a way to beat Tulane and UAB, they would be an attractive team to bowl representatives.

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