John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF's Dynamic Duo

Nov. 15, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. - Last year, Jeff Godfrey guided UCF to its finest season in school history while also winning the Conference USA Freshman of the Year award. Ultimately, he deserves every shot at remaining the Knights' starting quarterback, head coach George O'Leary said on Tuesday.

This season, redshirt freshman Blake Bortles has routinely jump-started UCF's offense when called upon to play in relief of Godfrey. And like Godfrey, Bortles has earned the right to play because of his steady production, O'Leary said.

So when UCF (4-6 overall and 2-4 in C-USA play) plays its final road game of the season on Saturday against East Carolina (4-6 and 3-3), both Godfrey and Bortles will continue to split the snaps at quarterback. The likelihood is that Godfrey will start, while Bortles will enter the game on the third possession. Then, O'Leary will most likely ride out the hot hand in the second half.

That was the formula that UCF used last week while nearly upsetting No. 22 Southern Miss. The Knights lost 30-29, but only after Bortles had a potential game-winning two-point pass batted down with no time on the clock. Just seconds earlier, Bortles had fired a clutch 25-yard touchdown strike to J.J. Worton on the final play of regulation to give the Knights a shot at the victory.

O'Leary plans to stick with the same strategy this week as it relates to his quarterbacks.

``We have two quarterbacks. Jeff deserves to be out there and Blake deserves the role that we're playing him right now,'' O'Leary said. ``We're fortunate to have two guys who can get snaps, move the football and be productive. But again, one is a redshirt freshman and another is a young sophomore. So they have a lot of learning to get done as far as progressing.

``Both are going to play and I would think it's going to be similar to what we did last week,'' O'Leary continued. ``We had a scheduled time for Blake to go in and then Jeff went back in. I thought Blake was handling things very well and could see down the field better, so he finished the game out.''

Bortles, the redshirt freshman from nearby Oviedo, completed 24 of 34 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns. He had a screen pass intercepted in the fourth quarter, but rebounded to complete his first seven passes on the final drive. In all on the final march, he calmly moved the offense down the field by hitting on nine of 10 throws for 84 yards.

It was very similar to the way that Bortles has played all season when called upon to replace Godfrey because of either injury or ineffectiveness. He completed four of five passes for 46 yards against BYU when pressed into duty because of a Godfrey injury. He directed a fourth-quarter rally against UAB with a TD pass, threw two TD passes against SMU late in the game and was masterful last Saturday night.

``I think Blake is very confident in himself, which is good because it's sometimes hard to find in younger players,'' UCF senior tackle Nick Pieschel said. ``With that confidence he just builds on it every game. As long as he takes it play by play and keeps working at every practice, I think he's going to turn out to be a very good quarterback.''

Godfrey drove UCF's offense up and down the field on its first two possessions Saturday night, but both drives were stalled by false start penalties. Still, Godfrey hit on seven of his first nine passes for 68 yards.

Bortles guided the Knights to a field goal late in the first half and stayed on to run the offense the entire second half. He had big throws to Josh Reese (15 yards), Worton (28, 9 and 25 yards), Latavius Murray (17 yards), A.J. Guyton (nine, eight and 14 yards) and Ronnie Weaver (a 13-yard touchdown pass). In all, nine different players caught passes, led by Worton's career-best 11 catches.

``When Blake goes in he's productive and makes plays. That's the big thing. And he ran some plays too,'' O'Leary said. ``I'm not disappointed in Jeff either because he made some plays. But when you have a hot hand, you go with it. And (Bortles) had a hot hand throwing the ball.''

Bortles' success throwing the ball against Southern Miss was a big reason why O'Leary opted to go for the two-point play and the win rather than kicking and opting for overtime. O'Leary said he had made up his mind with 2:47 remaining that if UCF scored it would go for two and the victory.

Tight end Adam Nissley came open in the back of the end zone on the final play, but a retreating Bortles couldn't get much on his pass and it was battled down by a Southern Miss safety.

Even though the play failed, O'Leary said he's still confident that he made the right play putting the fate of the game in the hands of his redshirt freshman quarterback.

``It was a good call by (offensive coordinator) Charlie (Taaffe), but Blake just didn't get his feet underneath him to throw the ball. The guy was wide open in the end zone,'' O'Leary recalled. ``I just thought the best opportunity to win the game was going for two. I'd make that same decision any day. That was the right decision to make. Again, the kids were behind that. It was a good call, but we just didn't execute as well as we'd like.''

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