Replay: Normal UCF Numbers in Wrong Column

"There's one degree of difference between hot water and water that's boiling. We've got to find that one degree."
                                                                                                            --UCF coach Josh Heupel
The numbers looked comfortingly familiar to UCF fans.
A balmy pre-holiday night in South Florida at the Boca Raton Bowl produced 655 total yards.
There was an amazing 441-yard passing effort, built on 27-of-35 throwing accuracy—all things Knight followers have come to appreciate.
That same quarterback also ran for a pair of scores and even caught a pass. He threw or ran for five TDs in the opening half alone.
That team's top running back rambled for a career-high 173 yards of his own and a touchdown.
There were 270 yards just in the opening period, to go with a 35-10 lead at halftime.
There was plenty of defense as well, with the opposing quarterback struggling to make timely connections when they counted.
There was only one problem with all those gaudy—some of them record-setting—statistics.
They all fell on the BYU side of the ledger.
The Cougars (11-1) scored early and often, leading 21-0 after one period, on their way to a 49-23 victory that was never in doubt.
The Knights (6-4), used to enjoying games like this on many a Saturday, could only watch and remember.
The game began exactly the opposite way UCF had hoped.
BYU had 14 points on the board in less than four minutes, scoring as quickly as Knight fans were accustomed to seeing their team accomplish that on many nights.
Dillon Gabriel's first throw, on UCF's first play from scrimmage, very nearly went down as an interception. By the time Josh Heupel's crew managed a first down, the team in black and gold was down two scores.
If the outmanned UCF defense had been impressed with BYU quarterback Zach Wilson in video prep, it had to have been awed with the in-person version. Wilson threw for 220 yards in the opening period alone (12-of-15 accuracy).
A youthful Knight secondary—also missing veterans Richie Grant and Aaron Robinson on this night—simply had no answers for the Cougar attack.
BYU's five first-half TD excursions looked eerily like what the Knights normally do—87, 72, 76, 68 and 87 yards. Those drives lasted 1:49, 1:13, 1:42, 3:00 and 2:54.
The Cougars scored their seven TDs on their first eight possessions—and the only drive that didn't produce points was a 50-yard march that ended on a missed fourth-down attempt from the UCF 38 on one of Wilson's four incompletions in the opening half (he threw for 330 yards in those two periods). The BYU quarterback's final 425 passing yard total ranked as his career high.
Greg McCrae ran for a five-yard score in the second period to cut the deficit to 21-7, and Knight fans will remember a Gabriel throw to a wide-open Jaylon Robinson that didn't connect.
If the first half wasn't difficult enough, the third period continued the frustration. UCF went three and out on its first two possessions, the Cougars added two more TDs in the first five and a half minutes—and the score was 49-10.
Gabriel finally connected with Jacob Harris for a 21-yard score on the second-to-last play of the third period—and did the same on a fourth-down endzone connection with Robinson almost halfway into the final quarter.
UCF's final 411-yard total wasn't its lowest of 2020 (Cincinnati held the Knights to 359)—but it felt that way. Gabriel ended up at 21 of 45 throwing for 217 yards—easily his lowest aerial yardage number of the year.
Any final takeaway? The Knights knew BYU was a very good team coming in—and the Cougars were better than advertised on this December night. They put up 13 plays of 10 or more yards in the opening period and never looked back. As of this morning the Cougars are tied with Alabama for the most first downs in the nation in 2020.
"I think things just happened for us real quick and worked in our favor," said BYU coach Kalani Sitake.
The Knights finished with a season-low 23 points, yet Sitake noted, "I would've taken 23 points in a heartbeat if you told me that before the game."
As Heupel, who saw one of his UCF teams lose a game by more than eight points for the first time, added, "We weren't at our best tonight."
As crazy as it sounds, BYU's victory came on the same evening UCF set single-season records for total offense (568.1 yards per game) and passing offense (357.4). Gabriel ends up with a single-season mark for passing yards (357.0), passing McKenzie Milton from 2017.
None of that was much consolation to anyone connected to the Knights.
"We're a darn good football team," Heupel told his players in a naturally subdued locker room, "but we weren't tonight.
"We've got enough guys in here that we can be darn good anytime we put 11 on the field. For whatever reason, it was what it was tonight. That's a grown-man football team (we played).
"Tonight shows where we've got to get better. For everybody that's coming back, hold on to this one. Hold onto it all spring ball, all summer, all offseason.
"This doesn't have to happen again. But to change it, we've got to change.
"There's one degree of difference between hot water and water that's boiling. We've got to find that one degree.
"Disappointing way to end. If we learn from it, we can go do what we want to do next year. We've got to make a conscious choice.
"This group collectively dealt with a lot of things since last March. Seniors, you poured a bunch of things into this program that are going to live on.
"One night doesn't get rid of all that."
Even with the one-sided result in Boca Raton, the last four years of UCF football have produced 41 combined victories, putting the Knights in the same vicinity as the programs that will play for all the marbles on Jan. 1 and beyond.
For Heupel and the Knights, it's their mission to make certain they stay in that neighborhood.