Replay: Knights Deliver Rocky-Like Punches All Night Long

If this was Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, in which UCF was playing Saturday night, it's accurate to say the Knights showed no love for their American Athletic Conference brethren.
In the spirit of that bronze "Rocky" sculpture in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art some eight miles north of Lincoln Financial Field, those same Knights displayed all the grit and pluck of that Sylvester Stallone character.
UCF delivered a long series of telling, impressive, knockout punches—in the process throwing haymakers early and often, and especially in the third period, in playing what amounted to the most complete 60-minute exhibition of 2019.
And just when a few of those UCF doubters had begun to wonder if the Knights were capable of nights like this—especially on the road—Josh Heupel's team had all the answers.
The final was UCF 63, Temple 21—and that includes an amazing 35-0 margin in the final two periods (after the Knights had been outscored by a combined 60-28 count in the second half of their last three games).
Cue that memorable theme from "Rocky."
In reality, no one needed to say much more.
After two successive painfully close road losses--and an open date thrown in as well—the topics had been well-documented.
Red-zone offense. Penalties. Turnovers.
Change all those equations for the good and maybe a full-blown 60-minute exhibit would be ready for display.
It's not as if the Knights hadn't had their moments. After all, coming into Philadelphia, UCF boasted the biggest first-period point differential (97 points—and now 104) in the country.
But let's say closing time had not always been the Knights' strong suit.
And let's presume even Heupel had become a bit tired of talking about all these same topics with the media, the weekly television broadcast crews and even his own staff and players.
So Saturday night—with an impressive and loud contingent of UCF fans taking over the visiting team sideline stands—the Knights set about making their case.
"Play for each other—60 minutes," noted Heupel minutes prior to kickoff. After all, most everything else already had been said.
And, yet, it didn't start all that well for the Knights. Temple took the opening kickoff and drove 70 yards for the lead. Quarterback Anthony Russo converted twice on third down and connected on all three of his passes (for 65 yards) including a 32-yarder for the points over Knights nickel back Aaron Robinson (who would have more to say later in the evening).
But, once UCF had its hands on the football, it made its own statement. Dillon Gabriel led his own scoring drive, with the Knights traveling 76 yards, with Gabriel connecting on all four of his throws for 67 yards. It ended in an easy toss to a completely uncovered tight end Jake Hescock.
That marked UCF's 30th scoring drive of 2019 of less than two minutes (this one was 1:31 on seven plays)—and that was only the beginning.
After Temple's second punt, Adrian Killins Jr. needed only a single play to roar 48 yards for a 14-7 lead. After the Owls' third punt, UCF went 99 yards (on six plays) with a 54-yard Otis Anderson run (his long of the season) qualifying as simply the most recent big play by the visitors. At that point UCF led by two scores despite a time-of-possession deficit of 14:16 to 4:37.
Temple answered with a 75-yard TD pass (almost twice as long as any other previous completion against UCF in 2019). But the Knights had their own answers—with Gabriel delivering a clutch and perfect teardrop throw into the corner of the end zone on fourth and four to Tre Nixon.
A fumbled punt by Anderson led to a short-field score by the Owls in the final minute of the second period. But that 28-21 UCF intermission lead (as the two teams combined for 563 first-half yards) was only a tease.
The Knights has set the tone defensively by limiting Temple to 47 first-half rushing yards on 28 attempts—and those numbers would only disintegrate for the home team.
"We've just got to keep playing our game," noted UCF defensive coordinator Randy Shannon at halftime.
"Stop the run and force them into third and long. We've had our ups and downs, but just keep fighting."
"Thirty more minutes," added Heupel. "Let's go."
An anonymous loud voice came from the corner of the locker room as the Knights headed out the door: "We gotta go home with a win. . . ."
The third period was a clinic. Any memories of not quite knowing where to go with a big halftime lead fell quietly by the board.
While the UCF defense was allowing minus-nine net rushing yards (eight carries) in that third period (and only 26 total yards), the Knights exploded for 208 total yards of their own:
And the big chunk plays just kept coming:
--A perfect slant route by Marlon Williams translated to a 73-yard scoring play. 35-21.
--After two Temple three-and-outs, Bentavious Thompson burst 34 yards into the end zone on the second play. 42-21. By that point UCF had outrushed Temple 221-25.
--After a misfire by the Owls on fourth down from their own 32, Anderson on the second play scooted 47 more into the end zone. 49-21.
--A Robinson interception set up an 11-yard Thompson TD run. 56-21. A 302-38 lead in ground yards.
And then came a second Robinson pickoff with 29 seconds left in the third quarter.
Anderson added another 37-yard dash early in the final period—and he finished with a career-high 205 yards on 16 carries. The Knights ended with a season-high 385 rushing yards.
The UCF ground domination qualified as even more impressive considering several Knight offensive line starters came off the field early the week before against East Carolina—plus veteran running back Greg McCrae watched from the sideline in Philadelphia and Killins didn't play after halftime.
Gabriel didn't need to play the final period either—but that was because the contest had been well-decided. It marked the most UCF road points since 2010.
It was game balls all around in a joyful visiting locker room.
"It's us in here forever," yelled Heupel. "It wasn't perfect, but everybody in the program tightened it up. Ignored all this outside noise that we can't go on the road. When we're on in all three phases for 60 minutes, we're a darned good football team."
UCF's domination essentially broke the backs of the Owls. The home team was outgained 298-19 after halftime. Temple's second-half possessions? They ended in punt, punt, punt, lost on downs, interception, interception, punt and punt. All five Owl second-half punts came after three-and-outs. Temple's longest second-half drive? Eleven yards.
UCF limited the home team to 12 second-half rushes for a net of minus-two yards. The Knights averaged 8.0 yards per rush to 1.1 for Temple (the Owls' longest rushing gain was 14 yards).
After holding the ball for only 2:47 in the first period (despite building a lead), UCF turned that around in the fourth period with 11:51 of possession time.
UCF accented it by scoring TDs on four straight possessions in the second half. Gabriel finished 10 of 21 throwing for 218 yards and three scores and Gabe Davis had three grabs for 83 yards—but this was a night where the Knight passing game did not have to make all the plays.
It may not have been perfect, but UCF simply broke the spirit of the Owls coming out of a seven-point halftime margin.
Heupel had to like the way his charges went on the road and did the best job so far in 2019 of setting a standard for play over the course of four full periods. And when the Knights did that—against a 5-2 Temple team bidding to make its own AAC statement--it was impressive for all those UCF fans to see.
As Heupel noted, this was more like the vision of what he hoped his Knights could be in all three phases.
As 1-0 weekends go, this one was way better than average.
As movie buffs know, the "Rocky" series had a handful of sequels.
Heupel and his Knights start working on those today.