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Replay: Knights Put It on Display

There has been no shortage of conjecture on future UCF football fortunes in the two-year runway to competing in the Big 12 Conference in 2023.

Will the Knights have what it takes? Will there be enough depth to stand up to the best the Big 12 offers? Can UCF’s best players be stars as the Knights take a step up in conference class?

Plenty more answers are yet to come—particularly later this month and down the line when UCF faces the likes of Kansas State, Baylor (the last two league champions), Oklahoma and others.

But if Knight fans learned anything from UCF’s 56-6 opening-night vanquishing of Kent State, it’s that Gus Malzahn’s team apparently has more players than ever capable of contributing at a high level.

UCF’s head coach has talked often about the need for additional depth (and recruited impressively to that need)—especially on both the offensive and defensive lines—to keep the Knights in gear late into the fall.

Whether it was on the lines—or more obviously at the offensive skill positions (10 players caught passes, and five backs ran for touchdowns in first time that happened since 2019)—there was plenty to like Thursday at FBC Mortgage Stadium.


Challenged first-year offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw prior to the first snap, “Have the discipline of doing everything the right way every snap.

“There's no more talking. It’s payday. Impose our will from the first snap.”

Offered quarterback/captain John Rhys Plumlee, “We want this bad. Let it show. I’m ready to ride with you.”

Malzahn had the last word, “We’ve got a chip on our shoulder. It’s time to break it out.

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We’re going to get after these guys.”

A sign in the stands read, “Storm Warning: Category Big XII”—a reference to recent serious weather issues around the state and beyond.

The UCF start was off the charts:

--Kent State’s first possession ended after three plays, the last a Ricky Barber sack.

--The Knights bookended that with two scoring drives of their own. Plumlee completed five of his first six throws, ran for 55 yards (then the third series included a signature hurdle over Golden Flashes defenders) and accounted for both a throwing (nine yards to Xavier Townsend) and running (17-yard scamper) touchdown.

--Townsend caught three passes for 41 yards on the opening drive, ending with his first career receiving TD.

--The Knights led 14-0 nine minutes into the game.

--UCF late in the first period held a 126-0 lead in rushing yards.

--Malzahn’s crew recorded nine first downs before Kent State managed one (and that first one came via penalty).

UCF’s third TD came via a Jordan McDonald wildcat package.

A DeJordan Mask interception at the UCF six kickstarted a two-minute drill for the home team. On consecutive plays Plumlee threw to Javon Baker for 22 yards, Townsend ran for 28 of his own and Plumlee zeroed in on a wide-open Alec Holler for 18 yards and a 28-3 halftime lead.

By then Plumlee already had run for all of his 90 yards on the evening (he has more career rushing yards than any other quarterback in the country except LSU’s Jayden Daniels) and thrown for 154 (he connected on 14 of his first 18 attempts).

The first two periods alone produced this list of big plays (15 yards or more):

--a Plumlee run for 15

--Plumlee pass to Townsend for 19

--first-down Plumlee rush for 16

--Plumlee TD run for 17

--Plumlee’s 32-yard scamper

--a 32-yard reception by Townsend

--those final three plays in the late second-period scoring drive

The total-yards difference at the break was 357-99.

The rushing balance produced eight carries apiece by Plumlee, RJ Harvey and Johnny Richardson in those two periods.


Not much changed after intermission.

“Now we know exactly what they’re trying to do to defend and how they’re trying to attack us,” Malzahn told his team.

“Make your adjustments and play with great energy. Great teams go out and finish. Let’s get after it.”

Harvey darted 50 yards with a Plumlee toss on a first-down play, UCF’s fifth play of the second half, to make it 35-3.

With four minutes in the period Harvey zipped 48 yards to the end-zone grass and it was 42-3.

The Knights rolled up another 211 yards in the third period.

Nothing much changed when UCF ran its reserves into the contest.

Backup quarterback Timmy McClain, seeing his first action at UCF, led 62- and 68-yard TD drives in the final period. He threw for 53 yards and ran for another 21.

Reserve running backs Demarkus Bowman and Mark-Antony Richards both scored TDs.

Freshman tight end Randy Pittman caught three passes.

Mitch McCarthy punted only once and that did not occur until the score was 35-3.

Defensive tackle Lee Hunter made his first career start and led the Knights with eight tackles after earning applause all preseason camp from UCF coaches and teammates.

Captain Josh Celiscar added a career-high seven stops. Maybe nothing told the story better than the Knights’ average of 8.5 yards per rushing attempt, an all-time single-game UCF high.

Malzahn’s crew ran for 389 yards (in Kam Martin’s first game as UCF running back coach)—an even 100 by Richardson, plus 90 from Plumlee and 84 by Harvey.

Townsend looked dangerous and polished in leading UCF receivers with five grabs for 81 yards.

An even 22 UCF players made at least one tackle—including true freshmen John Walker, Kaven Call, Braeden Marshall, Isaiah Nixon and Hudson Gibbs (son of UCF assistant coach David Gibbs).    

It was UCF’s eighth straight season-opening win. Malzahn has never lost a home opener as a head coach.

The game marked the fewest points allowed by a Malzahn-coached team at UCF.


“I’m real proud of you,” Malzahn said in the winning locker room.

“It’s hard to win in college football. It’s hard to dominate in college football.

“Here’s the great thing, man. We won convincingly and there’s gonna be some things we see on film that will be even better when we correct.”

The Knights then added an extra “BOOM” – as Malzahn called it, one more for the road.

UCF will try to make the most of its extra days of preparation before it heads west to face Boise State a week from Saturday night.

That’s the next time the Knights will test their depth.

In the meantime, going 1-0 will be enough.