Nov. 21, 2009
ORLANDO, Fla. -
By John Denton
This is how shockingly far UCF has progressed in a matter of one calendar year: A Knights team that limped to the finish line last November and was embarrassingly shut out in their finale has transformed now into a team that is doing the shutting out of foes and running up records in the process.
UCF's light years of growth were clearly evident again on Saturday as it repeatedly gashed Tulane with numerous big plays and the defense delivered another dominating performance in an easy, breezy 49-0 rout at Bright House Networks Stadium.
It proved to be the largest shutout victory ever in Conference USA play, beating the previous mark of 33-0 by Southern Miss against Houston in 1997. It should be pointed out here that UCF was shutout 15-0 by UAB last November, showing just how much the Knights have progressed.
``From last year to this year I don't think there's any comparison,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said. ``And if you just go this year from the first four games to games five through (Saturday), they've made tremendous improvement. That goes to our confidence because success and confidence go hand in hand.''
The lopsided numbers on both sides of the ball were tremendously gaudy for a 7-4 UCF team that is playing as well as any Knights squad since the 2007 edition won the Conference USA title. If Saturday's game against 3-8 Tulane were a fight, officials would have stepped in and stopped it. To wit:
---- UCF held Tulane to a minus-30 yards rushing, making it the second best performance by any defense in the nation this season. UCF's defensive line was in the backfield almost more than Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin, registering three sacks and eight tackles for loss.
UCF came into the game ranked third in the country against the run and it closed the gap on No. 2 Alabama who faced Chattanooga today. Texas (50.4 yards per game) will almost certainly remain first after tonight's game vs. Kansas, while Alabama (70.5 yards per game) is second and UCF (71.3 yards per game) is third.
---- UCF held the Green Wave to just 50 total yards on 51 plays. It's the fewest total yards a C-USA team has ever allowed in a game since the league's formation.
``I think it's the greatest defensive effort we've given ever here,'' said middle linebacker Cory Hogue, a fifth-year senior. ``Fifty total yards and negative-30 rushing, that's just awesome. That's the best way to go out with a shutout.''
And a UCF offense that embarrassingly ranked 119th in the country last season showed off its monumental strides by putting up some spectacular numbers of their own. Such as:
---- UCF's 504 yards were the most since the 2007 championship team had 506 at UAB.
---- The 49-point margin of victory is tied for the eighth-best in school history and is the largest win since 2001. And including the 37-32 defeat of Houston last Saturday, the Knights have scored 86 points in the past two games.
---- Brynn Harvey ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns, giving him 268 yards and six touchdowns over his past two games. He became the first Knight back since Kevin Smith to run for at least 100 yards in back-to-back games. And his 50-yard score on the game's fourth play matched the longest of his career.
``I'm really impressed with the progress we've made since last year,'' said Harvey, a sophomore. ``(Offensive coordinator Charlie) Taaffe has come in here and brought a whole new energy to the offense. He has all of these varieties of plays and the defense never knows what's coming.''
UCF's dreams of rallying back in Conference USA's East Division died when East Carolina posted a win over UAB today. But UCF's seventh win strengthened its bowl standing and put the Knights in position to reverse last season's 4-8 record with a victory next week in Birmingham, Ala.
``We're so much better than we were last season and it's all because it started in the offseason and we worked to make it happen,'' said junior wide receiver Kamar Aiken, who caught two touchdown passes in a game for the first time in his career. ``Last year it was a lot of little stuff keeping us putting up points and getting yards. We've cleaned up those mistakes now.''
In a bizarre twist, UCF had drives of 14 plays and 13 plays in the first half in which it didn't score, but later scored quick-strike touchdowns on drives of two, one and three plays.
A resilient second-half team most of the season, UCF led at halftime on Saturday for just the second time all season. The Knights rallied in the second half against Samford, Buffalo, Memphis, Marshall and Houston for wins, but no such comeback would be needed on this day.
And now UCF is left to wonder what might happen if it could play East Carolina and Southern Miss, the two C-USA teams to beat the Knights in the first four weeks of the season, now with momentum clearly on its side.
``We weren't really gelling at the beginning of the year the way we are now, but that's the way the schedule worked out playing (ECU and Southern Miss) early on,'' standout defensive tackle Torrell Troup said. ``If we were to play those guys again I think it really might be a very different outcome.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.