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Replay: An Out-of-This-World Performance

by John Heisler

Maybe it was the Canaveral Blue Space Game uniform effect (UCF is now 7-0 in Space Games). 

UCF coach Gus Malzahn shook his head after the contest, still in amazement at the buzz and marketing attraction of these events, even displaying the light-blue shoes he had been convinced to wear.

Maybe it was the Knights’ defense deciding it was on its own mission—to keep the nation’s leading rusher, Oklahoma State’s Ollie Gordon II, from having a picnic at UCF’s expense.

They succeeded in a big way. Gordon had no run longer than five yards and he finished with a paltry 25 yards on 12 carries. At halftime the visiting Cowboys had minus-six rushing yards.

On the other side of the ball, maybe it was the UCF offense, determined to prove that its own back, RJ Harvey, was the more worthy. Harvey did his part in spectacular fashion with 206 ground yards, three touchdowns and a 92-yard, third-period dash up the gut that effectively closed the coffin on Oklahoma State.

Maybe it was simply the pent-up frustration from more than a few Saturdays when UCF felt it was the better team, but turnovers, execution errors and an injury to quarterback John Rhys Plumlee all got in the way.

Saturday the Knights proved what they believed and had continued to say—that UCF is more than capable of being a good, if not very good, football team.

Or maybe it was the UCF coaches recognizing they could create matchup problems in the Pokes’ secondary.

Plumlee zipped a 37-yard throw to Xavier Townsend right down the middle on the first play from scrimmage—and by a bit more than four minutes into the second period four UCF receivers had caught a pass for at least 37 yards. UCF now leads the Big 12 in average yards per completion at more than 15.

It just so happened Oklahoma State, tied for first place in the Big 12, was in the way at FBC Mortgage Stadium.

With no rain gear in sight, the soggy Cowboys stood through a near monsoon in the middle of the game. 

That seemed to set the mood for an afternoon where it all came together for UCF in a game that made a statement about both teams’ standings and qualified as Malzahn’s 100th career win (23 against ranked foes).

UCF won 45-3 and, in the process, marked the highest-ranked (Associated Press poll) opponent defeated at home since FBC Mortgage Stadium began doing business in 2007.

The defensive board in the UCF locker room blazed three commandments:

“Out Effort!

“Out Physical!

“Out Last!”

The connection scribbled by defensive coordinator Addison Williams? “WE CONTROL!”

It was left for first-year Knight linebacker coach Ernie Sims to provide some impassioned pre-game thoughts to the UCF defenders:

“They put their pads on the same way we do! They put their helmets on the same way we do!

“Today we get a great oppoprtunty to prove who we say we are.

“Come swarm to the football! There shouldn’t be any one-on-one tackles today. We do it together! 

“Tighten your belts, tighten your chainstraps--and let’s get it done.”

Added Malzahn, “Defense, we’re gonna hit ‘em in the mouth. This place is gonna be rocking. We’re gonna play our best game today.

“Remember what I told you. You play for the guy beside you. Next-play mentality. Let’s go get after these guys.”

Plumlee set the tone on the opening play with his bomb to Townsend on his long reception of 2023.

Harvey ran once for 18 and finished the drive from the one. 

The Cowboys (Gordon in particular) fumbled on their fourth play and Demari Henderson recovered. On the next play Plumlee found Javon Baker for 38 yards and three plays later he hit Kobe Hudson for seven yards and a 14-0 lead.

With the UCF defense swarming Gordon anytime he touched the football, Oklahoma State quarterback Alan Bowman connected on his first seven throws for a combined 96 yards—but never had anything to show for it.

Freshman Braeden Marshall ended the second Cowboy possession with an interception of a tipped ball—and five plays into the second period Colton Boomer’s 30-yard field goal made it 17-0.

Freshman Braeden Marshall


After a three and out by the visitors, Plumlee and Hudson hooked up in the pouring rain for a 75-yard scoring play. It was 24-0 and 10:35 remained in the second period.

UCF held the ball for 9:26 in the second quarter—and by intermission the Knights had rolled up 320 yards. Plumlee completed seven passes in the opening two periods for 202 yards and a pair of scores.

Gordon had seven carries for 10 yards at halftime.


“The job’s not finished, men,” Plumlee yelled at intermission. “The job’s not finished.”

“They are blitzing the crap out of us and we gotta make ‘em pay,” said Malzahn.

“We got to do a great job holding onto the football and do a great job running it,” added offensive cordnator Darin Hinshaw.

Concluded offensive line coach Herb Hand: “About a month ago we were in this same position (against Baylor). There’s no let-up!”

Malzahn finished the communication: “Defense, keep doing what you’re doing. It’s next play. The offense is gonna score and we’re gonna put this thing away.”

Oklahoma State’s first drive of the second half ended in a field goal. But, after the teams traded tunrovers, Harvey broke through a bunched-up Cowboy defense near his own goalline for a 92-yard run that effectively sealed the verdict—almost as Malzahn had predicted.

A possession later Harvey had consecutive-play runs for 18 and 21 yards—and Plumlee’s 14-yard scoring throw to Hudson made it 38-3 with four minutes left in the third period.

The Knights ran for 139 yards in the third quarter alone.

UCF added a third first-play-of-the-drive, back-breaking completion, this one for 37 yards to Baker (he now leads the Big 12 in receiving yards).

Harvey added his third TD run and, for good measure, added a late seven-yard run that put him over the 200-yard mark. He now has five straight 100-yard games—most since Kevin Smith had eight in a row to end the 2007 season.

“I’m proud of you guys,” said Malzahn in a crazed UCF locker rom. “We played our best game of the year.

“We just dismantled the number-15 team in the country and held them to three points (fewest by UCF since 2019).”

Players chanted, “RJ, RJ, RJ!” The Orlando-area quarterback turned running back let his play do the talking even when the rain was coming sideways.

If this qualified as the team the Knights thought they could have, it remained a stunning display by a unit that not long ago had lost five straight times and now was playing a team tied for first place in the Big 12 with its own five-game win streak.

For random college football fans scrolling through scores Saturday night, it had to be as surprising a result and margin as any game in the country.

Just when some UCF fans were wondering if there was much left in the season to create any excitement, the Knights turned into a juggernaut.

One way or another the constellations all aligned Saturday for the Knights.

Never had a UCF team defeated a ranked opponent by this margin.

It was an other-wordly afternoon in all respects.