Replay: Knights Simply Not Good Enough in Greenville

The crazy, wonderful and oft-times frustrating thing about sports is that no matter what your team did last week, you've got to come back and do it all over again from scratch this week.
And so all the fuzzy optimistic feelings Knight fans felt about their UCF football team after gaudy displays in recent weeks versus SMU and Temple meant nothing on a cool Saturday evening in Greenville, North Carolina.
East Carolina didn't care that the Knights were coming off a 10-touchdown offensive performance just nine days ago. The Pirates held UCF to one.
ECU was not impressed by UCF's minimal total of seven turnovers in six games. The Pirates had plenty to do with creating Knight turnovers on the first three backbreaking UCF possessions (and four overall) – and that played out as a major factor on a night when ECU's overwhelming time-of-possession advantage (35:11 to 24:49) limited the times UCF had the football.
The Pirates seemed to have an answer for anything Gus Malzahn's crew attempted – and they dismissed the fact the visitors were the only squad in the nation not to allow more than 20 points in a game in 2022 by notching 34.
The final from Greenville was 34-13 – and it left Knight coaches, players and fans having to remind themselves it counted as only a single defeat.
UCF came in cognizant that this marked the Knights' first out-of-state assignment after playing five of their first six games at home.
"TAKE OVER," wrote defensive coordinator Travis Williams on the whiteboard in the UCF locker room.
"That's the mission," he said. "Start to finish. The great ones do it when it's just us. We're all we got, we're all we need."
Said Malzahn, "Let's start fast. Don't chase ghosts. We'll adjust as we go."
Added offensive line coach Herb Hand, "Show these guys our execution, our tempo, our physicality. Attack these guys from the first snap. Then the second half is ours—we already know that."
UCF's nation-leading red-zone defense came through again when ECU took the opening kickoff to the Knights' eight-yard line, only to see a field-goal attempt clang back off an upright.
But UCF's opening possession foretold how the rest of the evening would unfold. After a 30-yard Isaiah Bowser run out of the wildcat formation (that turned out to be the visitors' longest rush of the game), quarterback John Rhys Plumlee could not connect with a wide-open Jaylon Griffin near the UCF sideline. On the next play the Pirates intercepted Plumlee (after the UCF signal-caller had thrown 61 straight passes without a pick) and then marched 50 yards for a field goal and 3-0 lead.
The Knights again looked poised to take a lead of their own when Plumlee rushed 19 yards to the Pirates' 17, only to have the ball punched out from behind—only the fifth lost fumble of 2022 for UCF. ECU drove 80 yards the other way for a 10-0 edge.
UCF's third possession ended in a third straight turnover on a fourth-down Plumlee pass attempt from the ECU 37. The Pirates again marched impressively the other way, 72 yards for a 17-0 advantage.
Only a 37-yard completion to Kobe Hudson with two seconds left in the half permitted a Colton Boomer field goal to account for the 17-3 halftime score.
"That (field goal) was exactly what we needed," said offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey as he walked into the visiting locker room. "Hell of a job right there at the end. Let's go!"
Said Williams, "The second half is ours. We are all in this together. Let's match their energy and take over the whole stadium."
Concluded Malzahn, "We turned the ball over three times or we'd have 24 points.
"But we don't.
"So flip the switch.
"It's a matter of us holding onto the football. Squeeze the ball and we're going to come back and win the game."
Captain Sam Jackson had the last word, "Fellas, I want you to use this opportunity right here to remember what the loss to Louisville felt like. Use it as motivation.
"We got it all in our hands right now. Let's go out and be the best second-half football team in the nation.
"Let's be about it right now."
And then UCF went about giving itself a chance.
As Jackson had requested, his Knights drove impressively, 74 yards in 10 plays—the biggest play coming on a 30-yard completion to tight end Alec Holler to go with a Plumlee fourth-down conversion run. When Bowser scored from the three it became 17-10.
But ECU came right back with a 75-yard TD drive of its own. After a sack of Plumlee and a three and out by the visitors, ECU held the ball almost seven minutes on the way to a field goal.
UCF fought back for another Boomer field goal—but ECU added another TD on a 37-yard run and the Pirates eliminated any chance of late drama with another interception with a minute to go.
The final statistics didn't come close to telling the story.
ECU had only one more first down than did UCF and only 32 more total yards.
That stat sheet didn't truly indicate the manner in which the Pirates dominated time of possession and how ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers controlled the evening with his mostly short passing attack (he was 30 of 36 for 311 yards).
Meanwhile UCF standout Ryan O'Keefe didn't have a rush or reception until the fourth period.
The home team prospered by way of four sacks, seven tackles for loss, four pass breakups and three quarterback hurries.
There wasn't much for the Knights to hang their hats on.
Malzahn put it in perspective—and he never sugarcoats defeats:
"Here's the bottom line—we got our butts kicked—offense, defense, special teams.
"We got whipped today. And we've got to be men about it. We can start dividing or we can understand we played like crap, they played really good, and it's one loss.
"We still control our destiny, we got Cincinnati next week. That's what we gotta do.
"We'll regroup. Good teams don't always play their best. We didn't tonight and they did.
"That's the way it goes in life. Sometimes it doesn't go your way and now you have to make a choice."
A sage old Hall of Fame football coach used to say, "Losing tells you you're not good enough."
The Knights now will be about finding out if they can be good enough the rest of the way.
Because that's what will be required.