Replay: The UCF Attack? Simply Overwhelming

Nothing to see here, folks.
No, this was just your run-of-the-mill UCF football game.
Lots of points. Lots of yards. Lots of first downs.
Really, it's all par for the course on most weekends in the American Athletic Conference.
First-year South Florida coach Jeff Scott, in some sense, this morning must be wondering how it is his Bulls did not win the football game—or at least come a little bit closer.
After all, USF finished with more passing yards and more rushing yards than UCF—and the Bulls piled up 38 first downs (tied for their most against an FBS opponent).
Yet with less than two minutes left in the game, UCF led by 20 points.
How crazy were the numbers Saturday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa? Just, for example, Knight quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth, finishing with 336 aerial yards.
Yet that figure was 41 yards less than his season average—and UCF's 577 yards of total offense actually were nine fewer than its 2020 average.
That's what happens when your team scores two touchdowns every period, as Josh Heupel's did, in the final 58-46 UCF triumph.
"At the end of the day it's one play at a time. Go take it. If you go take it, you get a picture with that trophy at the end of this thing," Heupel said pregame.
The Knights should have known that a four-hour and 13-mnute football extravaganza loomed when the home team took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards for a 7-0 lead midway through the first period.
That seemed to be a wakeup call for UCF, which responded with TD drives of 75, 78 and 71 yards, as the Knights made it 21-7 with those three scores in a 6:58 span.
The last of those three proved the most impressive—as Gabriel found Tre Nixon for 51 yards on a teardrop that fell perfectly into Nixon's hands, followed by a 20-yard scoring pass to Jacob Harris on the second and last play of the possession.
The Knights played without leading rusher Otis Anderson and leading receiver Marlon Williams.
So senior Greg McCrae tied his career high with 25 rushing carries (130 yards and one TD) and Bentavious Thompson added another 110 yards (and two TDs) on the ground.
In Williams' absence, Harris (110 receiving yards, three TDs), Nixon (94 yards) and Jaylon Robinson (81 yards) each hauled in five of Gabriel's throws.
On a day when fans of both teams might have suspected their defenses had left the field at times to sample Black Friday sales, it was actually a UCF defensive play that qualified as the most noteworthy of the day.
For all of the Knights' shiny offensive numbers and NCAA statistical rankings, one that gets lost on the list is that UCF ranked first in the nation in fumbles recovered.
So, it was fitting that one of those played a significant role.
The Bulls had come back from a 28-7 deficit to trail only 45-38 after a rare Gabriel interception helped set up a three-play South Florida TD drive.
Suddenly the home team had the momentum, especially after USF's defense had forced a three and out and given the Bulls the ball and a chance to tie the game.
But, on the very first play of that ensuing drive, UCF sophomore Divaad Wilson (a transfer from Georgia) ripped the ball loose from South Florida running back Kelly Joiner (partly spoiling Joiner's 116-yard running effort) and redshirt freshman Keenan Hester recovered at the South Florida 40.
McCrae ran the football on five of the next six plays—the last 20 into the end zone to make it 52-38. UCF ran for 121 yards in the first half, 120 in the second.
Heupel's defense held South Florida on three downs—and this time Thompson carried on six consecutive plays, the last one for a two-yard TD. That made it 58-38 and effectively ended any drama remaining with 1:40 left on the game clock.
As Scott noted after the game, "We just ran out of bodies and ran out of steam."
"The only thing that matters is being plus one. That's it," said Heupel after it ended.
"All three phases you fight and claw. You keep competing, momentum goes the wrong way, you come back and make the play. That's all that matters.
"That's a trophy and picture that lives in our building.
"Tons of lessons, right? Third quarter, we've got to start faster. Offense had a chance to flip the scoreboard, change the game in the second half.
"Defensively, we give up a couple and you come back and get the strip that makes the difference in the game.
"You keep competing together, and you can do anything you want to down the road."

Any attending fan in Tampa who stepped out for a beverage need not have worried about missing too much. There was always plenty more to come. It was a day-after-Thanksgiving offensive smorgasbord.
Over one stretch of the third period, there were TDs scored on four consecutive possessions—on drives totaling 290 yards.
The Knights finished with five TD-scoring marches of at least 69 yards. The Bulls ended with four of at least 75.
Combined points? There were 104. Throw in 66 first downs, 1,223 total yards, eight TD passes, 740 passing yards and four 100-yard ground-gainers.
It was a dizzying display—and yet so fitting, even though the end result marked South Florida's eighth consecutive loss (1-8 overall, 0-7 in AAC play). The Knights now have won four straight in the series.
UCF has been ever so close. Three losses in 2019 by a combined seven points. Three defeats in 2020 by a combined 12.
At 6-3 (5-3 in AAC competition), the Knights will take a few days off, then do what they need to do in preparation for a bowl game someday somewhere down that road.
One more chance to be plus-one.