John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Falls at UAB, 26-24


Oct. 21, 2011

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By John Denton

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Scoring two touchdowns in its first 10 offensive plays Thursday night, UCF looked well on its way to an easy, breezy win against a UAB team that it had dominated through the years.

Instead, UCF's offense bogged down throughout the rest of the game and the defense was unable to get stops at critical times. Redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Bortles gave UCF hope by leading the Knights to two scoring drives in the fourth quarter, but a fourth-quarter rally by UAB ruined the blustery night at historic Legion Field.

When freshman kicker Ty Long booted a 40-yard field goal with 21 seconds remaining, UCF was forced to stomach a disappointing 26-24 loss to previously winless UAB. The most disappointing aspect of the night was that UCF rallied to take a 24-23 lead with 5:02 to play, but was unable to get a defensive stand. UAB drove 61 yards, converting several big plays and taking advantage of a UCF pass interference penalty.

``As bad as we had been playing, that (last) series was the one where we really needed to get something done,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said. ``We gave up the two third downs and the penalty was a big play. That was as disappointing as anything.''

The loss dropped the Knights to 3-4 overall and 1-2 in Conference USA play. The Knights, who host Memphis and Tulsa the next two weeks at Bright House Networks Stadium, have yet to win on the road all season.

``The offense has to make plays and the defense has to get stops and we just didn't do enough to get a win,'' said tailback Latavius Murray, who had a 53-yard reception on the drive that ended in a Shawn Moffitt field goal that put UCF up by a point.

``We all know that the season isn't over. We've got to keep working, move on from this and just try to win the next game.''

UAB (1-6, 1-3) won for the first time all season. The Blazers joyously stormed the field at the game's conclusion, celebrating the stunning upset of the defending C-USA champs.

Bortles, the Oviedo native who has played well in relief all season, completed his first six passes and directed scoring drives of 41 and 63 yards to vault the Knights into a 24-23 lead. He completed six of 10 passes for 102 yards and will assuredly get a look at the starting quarterback job next Saturday.

``Obviously Bortles did a nice job,'' O'Leary said. ``I'll sit down with our offensive staff (on Friday) and talk about (the quarterback job).'' O'Leary said if he had the game to do over he would have inserted Bortles well before the fourth quarter.

A UCF defense that was ranked in the top five in the nation in several key statistical categories as recently as two weeks ago continued to have problems. UAB riddled the Knights for 501 yards - 327 through the air and 127 on the ground - for an average of 6.4 yards a play. UAB also converted nine of 15 third down conversions, two on the final drive of the night.

Fumed O'Leary: ``That's as sloppy a defense as I've ever seen. We're just doing things you can't do and expect to win.''

The Knights were playing their second game in six days, a second time this season they have had to play on short rest. UCF played at BYU on a Friday night in late September. The Knights will have a similar scenario in two weeks when they host Tulsa on Nov. 3, which falls on a Friday night.

UCF had 331 yards of offense, but produced little between the first two scoring drives guided by Godfrey and the final two led by Bortles. Brynn Harvey ran for 74 yards and two TDs. Redshirt freshman wide out Josh Reese, who couldn't haul in a Bortles pass late in the game for a potential touchdown, had four catches for 41 yards.

``We came out late in the game and executed like we were supposed to all night. There wasn't a change; it was just us doing what we had to do,'' UCF center Jordan Rae said. ``It's a team game and we win as a team and lose as a team. We can't point fingers. We'll just keep working hard and trying to win the next game coming up.''

UCF linebacker Ray Shipman, a former basketball player at the University of Florida, recorded the first interception of his college career at a great time for the Knights. Playing in place of the injured Jonathan Davis (concussion), Shipman stuck with a back on a pass route and intercepted a Jonathan Perry pass in the end zone. The pick stopped a 13-play UAB drive.

UCF missed three scoring chances in the second quarter when Moffitt had a kick sail wide left, Godfrey had a pass picked off and the Knights were stopped on a fourth down conversion.

UAB took its first lead of the game on the final play of the first half when kicker Ty Long booted a 46-yard field goal. That put the Blazers, who averaged a whopping 8.1 yards per play in the first half, up 16-14 at the break.

It could have been worse for the Knights if not for a timely big play from junior cornerback A.J. Bouye in the second quarter. Bouye turned away a UAB scoring threat by intercepting a pass in the end zone and returning it 27 yards. Bouye later left the game with a leg injury.

UCF's defense struggled to gain any sort of footing against UAB's diverse offense early on. The Blazers rolled up a whopping 258 yards and 13 first downs in the first half. UCF had 196 first-half yards, getting 55 yards on the ground from Harvey and 120 yards through the air from Godfrey.

A week after being forced to play out of a hole most of the game against SMU, UCF got off to a blazing start with a picture-perfect start to the game. Freshman Rannell Hall, appropriately nicknamed ``Speedy,'' returned the opening kickoff 36 yards. UCF then picked up first downs on Godfrey's first two passes and the third play of the drive was a dazzling 29-yard touchdown run by Harvey. Just 76 seconds into the game, UCF already had a 7-0 lead.

UCF similarly wasted little time in tying the game up. Mixing the run and the pass, the Blazers drove 76 yards in 10 plays for a score. UAB needed just one third down conversion on the drive, clearly catching UCF's defense out of sync early in the game.

UCF answered right back, re-taking the lead almost immediately thanks to another explosive return by Hall. He brought the kickoff back 57 yards, and minutes later Harvey was in the end zone for his second touchdown run of the night.

UAB aggressively attacked UCF's nationally ranked pass defense, hitting on throws of 14 and 22 yards. Then, facing a third-and-nine situation, UAB quarterback Jonathan Perry found tight end Nolen Smith down the middle for a 23-yard score. Of Perry's first 11 completions, nine different receivers hauled in passes. UCF sophomore defensive tackle E.J. Dunston blocked the extra point, keeping the Knights briefly ahead 14-13.

``This was on the defense just giving up too many yards in the pass game and not making any plays,'' O'Leary said. ``You just can't give up as many pass plays as we did. We have to make plays and their players made more than ours did.''

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