Replay: Maybe a Season-Defining Moment for UCF

Maybe, just maybe, UCF football fans will look back at this perfect early October evening at FBC Mortgage Stadium and tag it as the game that defined what the Knights could be.
Maybe this was the signature game in which Knight Nation watched the UCF squad grow up right before its eyes.
Maybe the contest provided even a season-turning play on a 51-yard catch-and-run by transfer receiver Javon Baker—keynoting the first possession of the second half when the Knights emphatically grabbed back the lead and the momentum for good.
In the end, UCF (4-1 overall, 1-0 in AAC) scored 31 consecutive points and manhandled an SMU team that had averaged more than 500 yards of total offense per game.
The final score—after the Knights at one time trailed 10-3—was 41-19, and that's after quarterback John Rhys Plumlee finished 10 of 12 for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the second half alone.
As Knight coach Gus Malzahn had told his players, this was a game where UCF's big-time players needed to play big-time roles.
And they did.
 This was a game chock full of delicious sub-plots.
The most interesting involved the relationships between the coaching staffs—with first-year SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee qualifying as one of Malzahn's most noteworthy proteges, dating back to their years at Auburn, Arkansas State and Arkansas and even back to the high school ranks when Malzahn actually coached Lashlee.
It made for a bizarre chess game, with opposing coaches having a way-better-than-normal appreciation for philosophies and tendencies on the opposite sideline.
Then there was the rare Wednesday night date—all because a hurricane twice changed the original Oct. 1 game.
It made for a not-so-fluid week and a half of preparation—with players and coaches admittedly far out of their normal Saturday-to-Saturday routines and emotional and physical comfort zones.
It all came back to making plays—and the Knights did that in impressive fashion after intermission.
Seldom have the Knights endured such a mundane first half on the offensive side—only to completely flip the switch in the final 30 minutes.
As Malzahn and his players agreed, they want that to be the standard the rest of the way.
"Bring the juice—I don't care if we play in the parking lot," said UCF defensive coordinator Travis Williams before the game.
"Let's execute the mission. Let's make believers out of everyone watching us."
Added Malzahn, "Have fun, make plays, be physical as crap. Bring your energy. Bring your A game. Let's get after these guys."
In arguably the biggest test for Williams' UCF defense, the Knights came out strong—with Divaad Wilson forcing an SMU fumble (recovered by Jason Johnson) on the fourth play from scrimmage. That turnover translated to a workmanlike 11-play drive that ended with a 41-yard Colton Boomer field goal (he's now seven for seven over the last three games).
The Knights found no easy yards on offense—and after the first period the visiting Mustangs led 178-47 in that category.
UCF tied the game at 10 on the first of Isaiah Bowser's three short TD runs, then saw the visitors add a field goal with 3:24 to go until halftime.
The UCF defense had yielded 287 yards, the offense had been underwhelming, with five of six possessions amounting to 30 or fewer yards.
Yet the Knights trailed only 13-10 at the break (the first time this season UCF did not lead at half) and they at least had that to hang their hats on.
"All we've got to do is take our opportunities and make plays and we've got a chance," said offensive coordinator Chip Linsey at halftime.
"They shot their best shot," said Malzahn. "So now let's take this thing over."
Plumlee and the Knights couldn't have followed that direction any better.
UCF needed only five plays to change the contest. Baker's 51-yard reception drew the most attention—and another Bowser TD run gave the home team a lead it would never relinquish.
From there on out it was all Knights.
The Mustangs were so desperate so quickly they failed on a fourth and one from their own 34 on their first second-half possession, as Koby Perry made the tackle for loss.
Two possessions later, Malzahn's crew made great use of Plumlee connections to Kobe Hudson (19 yards) and O'Keefe (a 26-yard TD grab), with a 16-yard RJ Harvey rush sandwiched in the middle. That made it 24-13 and the home team was rolling.
SMU came up short on another fourth-down try from the UCF 19—and soon after Andrew Osteen pinned the Mustangs on their own four with a perfect punt.
On the second play, Tre'mon Morris-Brash bearhugged SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai in the end zone for a safety.
On UCF's second play, Plumlee flipped to O'Keefe who turned the corner and turned the occasion into a 58-yard dash down the sideline. The Knights led 34-13 and added a final score on a drive that included 42 Harvey rushing yards.
SMU's final points on the last play of the game were inconsequential.
The Knights limited the Mustangs to four-of-16 success on third down. Second-half SMU drives included one for eight yards, another for minus-four and a third for two, as three times the Ponies gave up the football on downs.
Amazingly, SMU ran 14 more plays than did UCF—but the Knights had a time-of-possession advantage of seven and a half minutes.
UCF finished with 339 second-half yards. In the third period alone, Plumlee hit six of seven throws for 148 yards and a TD.
Over the final two periods, Baker and O'Keefe combined for eight catches, 202 receiving yards and 136 yards after the catch (YAC).
The final late meaningless SMU TD marked the first allowed by UCF in the fourth period since last season's game at SMU.
In five games this season the Knights have permitted a combined 29 second-half points.
"We talked about the second half," yelled Malzahn to his players in the locker room.
"Get this—339 yards of offense. Great job with that. It was 31-6 in the second half.
"Championship teams come out in the second half.
"We beat a good football team and we beat 'em handily. I'm proud of you. We got better. We played our best game tonight."
Where the Knights go from here will be determined by Malzahn and his staff and team.
They may yet look back and decide the win over SMU provided the ultimate roadmap to follow.