John Denton's Knights Insider: Defense is Key to UCF's Victory

Jan. 1, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The fact that UCF's Bruce Miller had just capped his college career with a first-ever bowl win and a defeat of his home state school, the Georgia Bulldogs, had the standout senior wondering late Friday night wondering if he was living out a dream.

But securing the gritty 10-6 defeat of Georgia in the Liberty Bowl with a stellar defensive effort for the ages made the moment even sweeter for UCF's heart and soul leader. For Miller, the performance was eerily similar to the Conference USA championship game four weeks earlier when UCF smothered SMU in a record-setting 17-7 defeat.

``For me, there were just so many emotions. For the second game in a row the defense was on the field and made the plays to help this team to win,'' Miller said. ``We struggled a little bit (defensively) during the season, but we played lights out these last two games. These were the biggest games of the year for us, so that just gives me a great feeling.''

UCF made a Nick Cattoi field goal and a 10-yard touchdown scamper by Latavius Murray stand up for the school's first-ever bowl win with a salty defensive effort. The Knights allowed only a field goal on the first drive of the game and another field goal on the first drive of the second half. Otherwise, the Bulldogs were contained all afternoon by a UCF defense that got big efforts from several players.

Georgia's high-powered offense came into the game averaging 34.3 points on the season and 39.2 points in star wide out A.J. Green's eight games. But Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was sacked three times, picked off twice and had six passes broken up by UCF defenders.

Most impressive was the job the Knights did on Green, a likely top five pick in this spring's NFL Draft. He caught eight passes for 77 yards, but no catch went for more than 18 yards and his runs after the catch were limited by UCF's stellar secondary.

Sophomore safety Kemal Ishmael had a game-high 11 tackles and two pass break-ups, while senior cornerback Justin Boddie had the game of his life with 10 tackles and three pass breakups. And UCF standout cornerback Josh Robinson (four tackles and a breakup) shadowed Green all day and kept him corralled.

``It was very difficult containing (Green). I told him after the game that he's a great receiver,'' said Robinson, who will head into next season as an All-American candidate. ``One thing is I didn't do it alone. We gave him a lot of coverages and help over the top. It was a team effort stopping him.''

Initially, there was some confusion over the hero of the final play, a play that will go down in UCF history as one of biggest defensive efforts ever. Emory Allen was in front, Darin Baldwin was in back over the top, but it was Ishmael who batted down the final pass to secure the victory. Curiously, the 6-foot-4 Green didn't jump for the final pass, but the efforts of Ishmael, Baldwin and Allen kept Georgia's Orson Charles, Tavarres King and Kris Durham from getting involved.

``A.J. Green isn't the only Division I athlete out there; we're on scholarship, too and it was up to us all to make some plays,'' Baldwin said. ``It was our best against their best out there and we made the plays that helped us win the game.''

Linebacker Josh Linam, a first-year starter, was named UCF's Outstanding Defensive Player after intercepting his first pass of the season to set up the Knights' first score of the day. UCF coach George O'Leary chided his linebacker after the game for running the wrong way on his return, but the play was still undeniably a big one for the Knights.

``I just wanted to catch it. I also cut the wrong way (on the return),'' Linam said. ``All of the seniors just stepped up and I just tried to do my part to help us get a victory.''

When the victory was complete, Miller was shocked at everything his Knights had accomplished on the day. The process, he stressed, started last January following a disappointing loss in the St. Pete Bowl and it culminated in Friday's landmark victory for the program. Miller finished with eight tackles and 1.5 sacks, increasing his school record for sacks to 35.5 for his stellar career.

``At the beginning of the year we set a goal and we took it one step at a time the whole way. All the way back to January after the St. Pete Bowl when we lost, we weren't going out that way. We put in a lot of work and it all came together on the field,'' said Miller, the two-time winner of Conference USA's Defensive Player of the Year award. ``I have a lot of emotions right now as a senior, and to end my career with a championship and a bowl win against my hometown team, I couldn't ask for it to end any other way.''


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