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Knights Set to Clash with Yellow Jackets Friday in Gasparilla Bowl

by Justin Wilson

For the third time in the last five seasons, UCF will participate in the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl where the Knights (6-6) will meet Atlantic Coast Conference member Georgia Tech (6-6) at 6:30 p.m. EST on Friday, Dec. 22, 2023, in 65,000-seat Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The game will be televised by ESPN.

GAME INFORMATION
Date: Friday, Dec. 22, 2023
Time: 6:30 P.M. ET
TV: ESPN
Talents: Wes Durham (PXP), Tim Hasselbeck (Analyst), Taylor Tannebaum (Sideline)
Radio: FM 96.9/AM 740 The Game
Talents: Marc Daniels (PXP), Gary Parris (Analyst), Scott Adams (Sideline)
Spanish Radio: UCFKnights.com, YouTube.com/UCFKnights
Live Stats: click here

A UCF WIN WOULD...
• Give UCF its seventh bowl win in program history.
• Give UCF its seventh consecutive winning season, which dates back to the 2017 season.
• Be UCF’s third all-time victory against Georgia Tech and the third in the last four seasons (2020 and 2022).
• Give head coach Gus Malzahn his second bowl win in three seasons at UCF.
• Be better than a loss.

SERIES BREAKDOWN

Overall GT leads, 3-2
in Orlando UCF leads, 1-0
in Atlanta GT leads, 3-1
Last Meeting W, 27-10 (9/24/22)
Streak UCF won 2

KNIGHT NOTES
• It’s a program-record eighth consecutive postseason bowl appearance for the Knights, the 11th in 12 seasons and the 15th in 19 years. UCF also previously played in the NCAA Division II playoffs in 1987 and in the NCAA FCS Playoffs in 1990 and 1993.

• It’s the third time in five years UCF has played in the Gasparilla Bowl—and the second time in three years that has happened under current UCF coach Gus Malzahn. The Knights defeated Florida 29-17 in the 2021 Gasparilla Bowl and won 48-25 against Marshall in the 2019 Gasparilla Bowl.

• Malzahn has seen his teams qualify for postseason bowl games in all 12 years he has been a head coach, including seven appearances in New Year’s Day games. Malzahn is one of four active coaches that has led his team to bowl eligibility in each of the past 12 seasons. Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy are the other three coaches to accomplish the feat.

• UCF is one of just 13 programs to earn bowl eligibility in each of the past eight seasons and the only team from the state of Florida. The Knights are one of just three Big 12 Conference programs with the distinction, joining Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

• UCF and Georgia Tech will play for the sixth time and the second consecutive season—with UCF winning 27-10 in 2022 in Orlando. The first four meetings took place in Atlanta in 1996, 1999, 2000 and 2020.

• Since the start of the 2017 season, UCF has accumulated 65 wins, the ninth-most wins by an FBS program. The Knights went 13-0 in 2017, 12-1 in 2018, 10-3 in 2019, 6-4 in the Covid-shortened 2020 season, 9-4 in 2021, 9-5 last season and 6-6 in 2023. The Knights join Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Michigan and Appalachian State as the only programs to win at least 65 games since 2017.

SCOUTING GEORGIA TECH
For the first time since 2018, Georgia Tech is bowl eligible, as the Yellow Jackets will meet the UCF Knights in the Gasparilla Bowl. It will be GT’s first appearance in the Gasparilla Bowl and sixth all-time meeting between the teams. Georgia Tech’s last bowl game appearance was at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan, in 2018 versus Minnesota in the Quick Lane Bowl. The Yellow Jackets lost that game 34-10 to end the season 7-6. Their last bowl game win came against Kentucky 33-18 in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, on New Years Eve in 2016 to end that season with a 9-4 record.

GT has been opportunistic on defense, ranking 13th nationally in forced turnovers and fumble recoveries, as the defense stripped top-ranked Georgia on its first offensive play in the Yellow Jackets’ last game. Georgia Tech averages 31.2 points per game this season and allows 30.5 ppg to opponents.

Friday’s matchup will be the first meeting between the Knights and the Yellow Jackets at a neutral site. In the last outing, UCF rushed for 284 yards and the Knights’ defense held GT to 0 for 5 on red-zone chances to earn a 27-10 win at FBC Mortgage Stadium. Kicker Colton Boomer was a perfect 4 for 4 in that game on field goals, matching the program record for field goals in a single game. Defensive back Quadric Bullard also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in that game.

POTENT OFFENSE
UCF’s offense continues to rank among the nation’s best, as the Knights are seventh in the country and second in the Big 12 Conference in total offense, averaging 492.2 yards per game. The Knights have surpassed 400 yards in nine of their 12 games this season, headlined by 723 yards in the season opener against Kent State, the second-most yards by any team in the country this year in a single game. The Black and Gold tallied 592 yards, the most by UCF in a Big 12 game this season, against then-No. 15 Oklahoma State, which is the most the Cowboys have allowed in a game this year.

FOCUSING ON THE RUN
The Knights are fourth nationally in rushing offense with 233.2 rushing yards per game. UCF has rushed for 200 or more yards in nine of its 12 games this season, highlighted by 389 rushing yards in the season opener against Kent State, the seventh most by an FBS team this season and the second-highest mark in the Big 12. The Knights have rushed for 140 or more yards in each game this season, one of only two teams nationally to accomplish the feat, joining West Virginia.

OFFENSIVE GURU
Known as one of the best offensive minds in college football, not only does UCF head coach Gus Malzahn have the Knights among the nation’s top offenses at No. 7 in total offense, but also several of the nation’s other top offenses have connections to Malzahn.

North Carolina, which ranks fourth nationally in total offense, is led by offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, who spent the 2022 season as UCF’s offensive coordinator and also worked under Malzahn at Auburn. Texas State head coach GJ Kinne has the Bobcats ranked 10th in total offense and Kinne accepted the head coaching job after spending the 2021 season as the Knights’ offensive coordinator.

SMU, which is 15th in the nation in total offense, is coached by Rhett Lashlee, who Malzahn coached at Springdale High School in Arkansas and then later hired at Auburn.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME
UCF has played in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, each of the past five years and has compiled a perfect 5-0 record in those games.

2018: South Florida, W 38-10
2019: Marshall, W 48-25 (Gasparilla Bowl)
2020: South Florida, W 58-46
2021: Florida, W 29-17 (Gasparilla Bowl)
2022: South Florida, W 46-39 

THIRD TIMES THE CHARM
UCF fifth years Alec Holler, Tre’mon Morris-Brash, Lokahi Pauole, Adrian Medley, Ed Collins and Jarrad Baker are set to play in the Gasparilla Bowl for the third time in their Knight careers this weekend. Morris-Brash recorded three tackles, two tackles for loss, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble in the win against Marshall in 2019.

In 2021, Holler reeled in a pair of passes for 14 yards and Morris-Brash had two tackles and two quarterback hurries.

COACHING CONNECTIONS
Friday’s game features a ton of unique connections, as former UCF head coach George O’Leary also served as the head coach at Georgia Tech from 1994 to 2001 prior to his time in Orlando. Additionally, current Yellow Jackets coach Brent Key spent 11 seasons with UCF, starting as a graduate assistant in 2005 before ending his tenure as the assistant head coach/offensive coordinator in 2015.

UCF co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Herb Hand worked alongside GT runnings back coach Norval McKenzie in 2010 when the two were at Vanderbilt. Hand was the offensive line coach/run game coordinator, while McKenzie was the assistant recruiting coordinator.

SPECIAL SEASON FOR HARVEY
UCF running back RJ Harvey has turned in a special season, headlined by being a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award, presented annually to the nation’s best collegiate running back. Harvey’s historic season has seen the Orlando native rush for 1,296 rushing yards to become the first Knights running back to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in a season since Greg McCrae in 2018.

The Orlando native ranks among the top 10 in the Big 12 Conference in every rushing category. He’s second in rushing TDs (16), third in rushing yards (1,296) and rushing yards per game (108.0) and fourth in yards per rush (6.14) and rushing attempts (211).

His 16 rushing touchdowns rank sixth nationally and his rushing yards total is 12th in the nation.

Harvey tallied five consecutive 100-yard rushing games from the Kansas to Oklahoma State games, becoming just the second running back in program history to accomplish the feat in as many games, joining UCF Hall of Famer Kevin Smith.

STARTING FAST
UCF has outscored opponents, 113-57, in the first quarter of games this season. The Knights have scored first in six of their 12 games, owning a 4-2 mark when doing so. The Knights scored first in seven games last season and were a perfect 7-0 in those games.

In three years under head coach Gus Malzahn, UCF is 18-5 when scoring first. The Black and Gold were 7-3 in 2021.

Malzahn’s team has scored first in 23 of his 38 games as the Knights’ head coach.

JOHNSON ECLIPSES 100 TACKLES FOR SECOND CONSECUTIVE YEAR 
Fifth-year linebacker Jason Johnson recorded eight tackles in UCF’s regular-season finale against Houston to become the first UCF player since Clayton Geathers and Terrance Plummer in 2012-13 to record consecutive seasons with 100 or more tackles. He’s tallied 101 tackles this season after recording 126 last season.

BAKER LOOKING FOR 1,000 RECEIVING YARDS
Wide receiver Javon Baker is second in the Big 12 Conference and ranks 29th nationally in receiving yards with 966. The Atlanta native is looking to become the Knights’ first 1,000-yard receiver for the Knights since Marlon Williams in 2020.