Game Notes: No. 22 UCF Set for War On I-4 Saturday

Game Notes | Depth Chart

The 22nd-ranked UCF football team will close out its regular-season slate on Saturday at South Florida for the War On I-4. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. from Raymond James Stadium and the game will air live on ESPN2. The teams are located less than 100 miles apart off of Interstate-4 and Saturday's matchup will have an added sense of anticipation, as UCF and USF have met on the field in each of the last 10 years. With the Knights move to the Big 12 Conference next season, the rivalry game will likely not be played as often.

Date: Saturday, Nov. 26
Time: 7 p.m.
Talents: Taylor Zarzour, Matt Stinchcomb, Alyssa Lang
Radio: FM 96.9/AM 740 The Game
Live Stats: click here

• Be UCF's sixth consecutive win over South Florida
• Give UCF consecutive seasons with at least nine wins under second-year head coach Gus Malzahn
• Give Gus Malzahn his second win over USF in his second matchup with the Bulls
• Be better than a loss


OverallUCF leads, 7-6
in TampaSeries tied, 3-3
in OrlandoUCF leads, 4-3
Last MeetingW, 17-13 (11/26/21)
Last Meeting in TampaW, 58-46 (11/27/20)
StreakUCF won 5

• After dropping a three-point loss to Navy last weekend, UCF is listed at No. 22 in this week's College Football Playoff Rankings and No. 25 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 Poll released on Sunday. The Knights were the first team out of the American Football Coaches Association Poll (AFCA).

• UCF's last four games have all been decided by single digits and last Saturday's game was the first loss during that span. The four games have been decided by a total of 21 points and each game has been decided by a single possession.

• UCF's red zone defense continues to rank among the best in the country at No. 2 nationally, as opponents have scored on just 66% of their trips to the red zone, converting on 29-of-44 attempts. The Knights have only allowed 18 touchdowns in the red zone in 44 trips for opponents, a 41% rate. UCF has forced at least one red zone stop in eight of its 11 games this season, headlined by a season-high five red zone stops against Georgia Tech.

• The Knights' rushing attack is among the best in the nation as well, averaging 234.5 rushing yards per game to rank seventh and lead the AAC. Fifth-year running back Isaiah Bowser is 13th nationally with 13 rushing touchdowns, which also leads the conference. Dating back to the bowl game last year, Bowser has at least one rushing touchdown in nine of his last 12 games, scoring 15 total during that span. UCF's 28 rushing touchdowns this season lead the conference.

• UCF is the only team in the American Athletic Conference that ranks among the top five in seven of the following eight categories: rushing (2), passing (7), scoring (5) and total offense (2); rushing (4), passing (5), scoring (2) and total defense (3).

South Florida has had a tough season and parted ways with their head coach Jeff Scott following the Temple game on Nov. 5. Daniel Da Prato is the acting head coach and will lead the Bulls against UCF on Saturday. The Bulls are coming off a 48-42 loss at Tulsa last Friday night. USF led after the first quarter 10-7, but Tulsa scored 24 points in the second quarter to take the lead and held on for the victory.

Saturday's game will be the 14th all-time meeting in the War On I-4, as UCF leads the series 7-6. Last year, UCF won a defensive battle at home, 17-13. With the score tied at 7-7 following the first quarter, UCF scored in the second to take a 14-7 lead into halftime and only allowed six points in the second half while adding a field goal late.

The 2020 matchup in Tampa was the exact opposite, an offensive explosion. The teams combined to score 104 points - the most between the two teams in the series - as UCF earned a 58-46 road win at Raymond James Stadium. UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw for more than 300 yards and USF signal caller Jordan McCloud tallied more than 400 yards passing.

South Florida has a strong running game, as running back Brian Battie is second in the American Athletic Conference and 20th nationally in rushing yards with 1,042. He's also second in the league in rushing yards per game with 94.7. Battie paces the AAC in all-purpose yards with 153.0 to rank seventh.

UCF has won the last five matchups in the series, including a 17-13 victory in last year's game.

Held on Black Friday in each of the past five years, the War On I-4 will be played on a Saturday for the first time since 2016. The universities are located less than 100 miles apart off of Interstate-4.

The Knights lead the Bulls in the War On I-4 across all sports this season with two UCF volleyball wins, one women's soccer win and by finishing ahead of South Florida at the American Athletic Cross Country Championship.

Date            Time        Sport                      Location        Info                               Points
Oct. 19        7 PM        Volleyball                Orlando          UCF Wins 3-0                UCF 3-0
Oct. 27        7 PM        Women's Soccer    Tampa            UCF Wins 2-0                 UCF 9-0
Oct. 28        10:15 AM Cross Country        Tulsa              UCF Finishes Eighth      UCF 15-0
Nov. 2          7 PM        Men's Soccer        Orlando          South Fla. Wins 2-1        UCF 15-6
Nov. 9          7 PM        Volleyball               Tampa            UCF Wins 3-0                UCF 18-6

In September 2016, UCF and South Florida announced their joint creation of a rivalry series to unite the communities and campuses in Tampa Bay and Orlando in an annual competition. 

UCF's and USF's fan bases have long engaged in a passionate rivalry between the universities divided by 100 miles and the I-4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando.  The Green and Gold and the Black and Gold will now compete for year-long bragging rights in one of the freshest and most energized rivalries in college athletics.

To add even more spice to the rivalry, the winner of the UCF-USF football game will now get to hoist a trophy -- one for the winner of the November football game and one for the overall winner of the series.

With six catches in Saturday's game, senior wide receiver Ryan O'Keefe moved into fifth-place in the UCF career record books for receptions with 172. O'Keefe leads the team with 61 receptions this year to go along with 659 yards and five touchdowns.

For his career, the Austin, Texas, native has 172 catches for 1,922 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Player                                Total    Years
1.   David Rhodes            213    1991-94
2.   Mark Nonsant            198    1995-98
3.   Sean Beckton            196    1987-90
4.   Mike Sims-Walker      184    2003-06
5.   Ryan O'Keefe            172    2019-22
6.   J.J. Worton                168    2011-14
      Tre'Quan Smith         168    2015-17
8.   Siaha Burley             165    1997-98
9.   Charles Lee              162    1997-99
10. Rocky Ross               157    2006-09
     Marlon Williams          157    2017-20

Defensive tackle Ricky Barber turned in the best game of his collegiate career, tallying a career-high 13 tackles and was in the backfield causing havoc throughout the day against Navy. He topped his previous career best of 10 tackles he recorded at a previous school.

His 13 tackles are tied for the second most by a UCF player in a single game this season, behind Jason Johnson's 15 at East Carolina.

Barber tallied two tackles for loss and a sack against the Midshipmen.

In his last four games, Barber has 23 tackles, four tackles for loss and a sack. Additionally, he has seven quarterback hurries in four strong performances.

UCF received some great news from the College Football Playoff committee on Tuesday night, as the Knights are ranked No. 22 in the latest rankings revealed. 

With the American Athletic Conference's tiebreakers to participate in the conference championship game, UCF would clinch an appearance in the championship game with a win over South Florida on Saturday.

Senior linebacker Jason Johnson eclipsed 100 tackles for the season in last Saturday's game against Navy. He now owns 103 this season and is one of three players in the American Athletic Conference to accomplish the feat.

He becomes the 44th player in UCF history to record 100 or more tackles in a single season.

Making his second start of the season, linebacker Walter Yates III was up for the challenge against a tough Navy offense as he recorded a season-high 11 tackles.

UCF has rushed for 200 or more yards in eight of its 11 games this season and has accomplished the feat in nine of its last 12 games dating back to the win over Florida in last year's bowl game.

The Knights are seventh nationally with 234.5 rushing yards per game and their 2,579 total yards rushing this season are also seventh nationally.

UCF Rushing Totals By Game
South Carolina State - 49 attempts, 297 yards
Louisville - 38 attempts, 208 yards
at Florida Atlantic - 56 attempts, 314 yards
Georgia Tech - 56 attempts, 284 yards
SMU - 40 attempts, 160 yards
Temple - 41 attempts, 322 yards
East Carolina - 32 attempts, 130 yards
#20 Cincinnati - 52 attempts, 258 yards
Memphis - 42 attempts, 204 yards
#17 Tulane - 54 attempts, 336 yards
Navy - 24 attempts, 84 yards

UCF Defensive coordinator Travis Williams was named one of 51 nominees for the Broyles Award on Tuesday, Nov. 15, which is presented annually to the nation's top assistant coach. Williams was nominated for the award for the second consecutive season.

Williams is one of four coaches from the American Athletic Conference on the list and one of 24 defensive coordinators.

After improving the UCF defense 70 spots in total defense in his first season, Williams has picked up where he left off in his second season with the Knights' defense ranked 21st nationally in scoring defense (20.0). Thanks to strong play on the defensive end, UCF has recorded two ranked wins in the same season for the first time in program history following the wins against No. 20 Cincinnati and No. 17 Tulane. 

Fifth-year running back Isaiah Bowser heads into Saturday's game just two rushing touchdowns shy of tying Latavius Murray for the second most in a single season with 15. Bowser currently owns 13 to tie for the sixth most in a single season.

With nine rushing touchdowns this season, quarterback John Rhys Plumlee is one rushing touchdown shy of tying for the second most in single season in program history with 10. Jeff Godfrey accomplished the feat in 2010 and Daunte Culpepper holds the record with 12 rushing touchdowns in a single season set in 1998.

Each of UCF's last four games have been decided by seven or fewer points. The Knights started the streak with a four-point win against Cincinnati (25-21), followed by a seven-point road wins against Memphis (35-28) and Tulane (38-31). The last time UCF did that was final three games of 2017 season, defeating USF, Memphis in the AAC Championship Game and Auburn in the Peach Bowl all by seven points.

The Knights dropped their last game against Navy by three points, 17-14.