Oct. 23, 2010
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Jeff Godfrey was six years old growing up in Miami when Daunte Culpepper was a senior at UCF and leading the Knights to their finest season in school history. And before Saturday, the only extent of their relationship was Godfrey seeing all the pictures of Culpepper and hearing the stories about his legendary status.
UCF's past and current star quarterbacks finally met Saturday afternoon, and Culpepper did most of the talking, telling the freshman phenom quarterback that he has the kind of talent and temerity to take the Knights to heights never before seen around here.
Then, Godfrey went out and played like UCF's greatest legend, slicing up the Rice defense with his legs and dicing the Owls through the air. He stuck a 59-yard post pattern on the first play of the game and proceeded to threw for a career-best 178 yards and touchdown as UCF routed Rice 41-14 on homecoming at Bright House Networks Stadium.
And when Godfrey threw a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Adam Nissley just before the half to put UCF up 27-0, one of the first people to greet the charismatic quarterback along the sidelines was a joyous Culpepper.
``It meant a lot to me having him here and he said a lot of great words to me,'' Godfrey said after completing 13 of 18 passes and also running for 41 yards and a touchdown. ``He just told me to go out there and have fun and play football. That's what he did when he was here and he just told me to keep up the good work.
``Daunte means a lot to UCF history, and I'm trying to get to where he is,'' continued Godfrey, who tied Culpepper's record for TDs (five) as a freshman. ``I want to break his records. It was good to see him and nice that he got to see a good game.''
Godfrey's dazzling play and another gritty effort from UCF's nationally ranked defense allowed the Knights to improve to 5-2 overall, their best start since that 1998 season orchestrated by Culpepper. Culpepper, who was honored at halftime along with All-Americans Kevin Smith and Joe Burnett and the late Wayne Densch, marveled at the moxie of UCF's new quarterback.
``He's a special player and special guy. He has the ability to lead this team far beyond where it has ever been,'' Culpepper gushed. ``He's the type of guy who can get recruits here to help continue to build this program. He's that type of player.''
The victory also pushed the Knights to 3-0 in Conference USA play and set the stage for next Saturday's huge showdown against arch-rival East Carolina (5-2 and 4-0). The Pirates defeated Marshall 37-10 on Saturday, setting up Saturday's showdown. It's the latest in the season that two undefeated conference squads have faced one another.
``It's a big, big game next week and it's going to be a heck of a matchup next week,'' said Nissley, whose two roommates (Ricky Kay and L.D. Crow) combined on a 40-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. ``We've got them at home and we always play great at home. I'm excited for it and it's going to be a great game. Everybody should tune in for that one.''
UCF got three more rushing touchdowns from junior tailback Ronnie Weaver en route to building a commanding 34-0 lead before a crowd of 38,151. And the Knights defense, led by Darius Nall (2.5 sacks), Troy Davis (2.5 sacks) and Bruce Miller (six tackles), made it stand up. The Knights limited Rice (2-6, 1-3) to just 12 first downs and 229 yards - much of it coming against the second-string defense.
UCF coach George O'Leary likes the confidence that his Knights, winners of three straight games, are playing with now, but he knows the team will need its best effort next Saturday against East Carolina.
``I went into the game asking for a full 60-minute game and I feel we still have that effort to give,'' O'Leary said. ``We played well in spurts, but we turned the ball over a couple o ftimes in the second half. The kids are playing with great effort and enthusiasm on both offense and defense. Heading into next week's game against East Carolina, we haven't played our best game and we will need to play a full 60-minute game.''
With his confidence bubbling after his pregame pep talk with Culpepper, Godfrey came out and opened the game with a strike to senior wide receiver Kamar Aiken for 59 yards on the game's first play. Aiken said that Godfrey is light years ahead of where he was seven weeks ago as UCF's quarterback. He's noticed the quarterback's confidence rise dramatically and he's made UCF's deep-threat passing game much more effective.
``Six weeks ago he played like a freshman and talked like a freshman and now he picks us up and he plays around some to get us hyped up if everybody looks tense,'' said Aiken, who had a breakout game with three catches for 90 yards. ``You can see that he's maturing a lot.''
O'Leary could see that in the way that Godfrey checked two plays at the line on Saturday, recognizing two Rice blitzes and getting the Knights into two quick-hit passes. Godfrey ran five yards for UCF's first touchdown and later he scramble around to keep alive the play where he threw to Nissley for a score.
``I'm very comfortable now, I feel like I know what's going on and I'm still learning from (injured quarterback) Rob (Calabrese) even though he's out,'' Godfrey said. ``We're doing it all together as an offensive unit. I'm just working hard and doing what my coaches want me to do.''
Culpepper said during the game that he not only expects Godfrey to break most of his school records, but he hopes that he does just that. Culpepper said that Godfrey has the kind of charisma and talent that other big-time recruits will ultimately follow him to UCF and make the Knights an elite program.
And at the end of Godfrey's first postgame media session of the season, he was asked if he could ever envision a day when he would be brought back to the UCF campus so that his No. 2 could be honored in a ceremony.
``Man, wow,'' Godfrey said while letting out a big sigh. ``If I do that, it would be pretty good for me.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.