When UCF’s overwhelming 31-point first quarter and its 61-14 beatdown of Tulane was complete inside the massive Louisiana Superdome, there was finally a sense of normalcy among a UCF program that has run roughshod over the Conference USA competition save for last week’s blip against Southern Miss. The Knights’ 61 points were the most of coach George O’Leary’s era at UCF and the most in 12 seasons.
“You could tell all week long with the way that we practiced and prepared, it was a better week and we came out ready to play,” UCF standout defensive end Bruce Miller said. “When you lose one you always want to redeem yourself and we did an excellent job coming out ready to play and we didn’t let off the gas this week.”
UCF (8-3 overall and 6-1 in C-USA play) set a new school record for points in a first quarter and tied the record for points in any quarter (31) and swamped the Green Wave (4-7, 2-5) in almost every phase of the game. The Knights moved a step closer to clinching their third East Division title in the past six years and a spot at home in the Dec. 4 C-USA title game. The Knights need only to beat lowly Memphis next Saturday to lock up the division and home field advantage for the title game.
“Overall, a very good win and as I told the team, we’ve got one more big game next weekend and then hopefully we can secure the conference championship at Bright House (Networks Stadium),” O’Leary said. “We had a great focus in practice this week, getting back to blocking and tackling in full pads and sometimes you have to do that stuff in terms of catching their attention as to what has to be done.”
UCF’s 31-21 loss to Southern Miss a week ago ended its streak of wins in C-USA play at 11 games and knocked the Knights out of the national rankings just six days after they entered for the first time in school history. That loss was as stunning as it was frustrating considering that UCF sprung ahead 14-0 only to surrender 31 consecutive points.
But that humbling defeat also served as motivation for a Knights team that couldn’t get to Saturday’s opening kickoff soon enough. And once the game started, UCF unleashed a first-quarter fury on Tulane never before seen in the 31-year history of the program. And it ended the same way with promising freshman cornerback Jordan Ozerities returning an interception 100 yards for a touchdown on the game’s final play.
Speedy sophomore Quincy McDuffie set the tone for the afternoon with a dazzling 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 28-yard catch-and-run score to put the Knights up 14-0 in the first 3:06. UCF scored on the kickoff and four of its five offensive possessions in the first quarter and didn’t need more than four plays for any of those possessions.
“It was a pretty good feeling that we were able to bounce back from last week and now we just have to keep the momentum going to next week,” McDuffie said. “We knew what we had to do today and that was get on them from the jump and execute our game plan.”
UCF whipped Tulane 49-0 last season in the most lopsided shutout in C-USA history, and this game might have actually been more one-sided. By the time freshman phenom quarterback Jeff Godfrey hit Kamar Aiken for the longest offensive play of the season – a 60-yard touchdown pass – the Knights were up 38-0 and almost 12 minutes still remained in the first half.
UCF’s defense, which had struggled against spread offenses the past three weeks, forced three turnovers and surrendered only two second-quarter touchdowns after the outcome was decided.
UCF entered Saturday with quite a quirky streak against Tulane, and then proceeded to build upon it. Because the Knights scored the final nine points of the 2006 meeting against Tulane, then blanked the Green Wave 49-0 last season and scored the first 38 points on Saturday, UCF scored 96-consecutive points against Tulane over the span of three meetings. The Green Wave stopped the streak on a short touchdown run with nine minutes left in the second quarter.
Much to the delight of the approximately 1,000 UCF fans in attendance, the Knights led 38-14 at the half.
Latavius Murray, a redshirt sophomore, got his first-ever start on Saturday and delivered with the first 100-yard rushing day of his collegiate career. He had a 46-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter and needed just nine carries to top 100 yards. The talented back, who is fully recovered from knee surgery, finished with 146 yards.
“I’m very happy and proud of myself to come from not playing and hurt last year and I’m so excited now,” Murray said. “I love running back and playing that position. I’m just trying to do what I can do.”
Godfrey threw for 133 yards and two TDs and ran for two more touchdowns, extending his school record for rushing touchdowns by a freshman quarterback to nine. He now trails only Daunte Culpepper (12 in 1998) for rushing touchdowns in a season by a Knights’ quarterback.
Godfrey, who has displayed a maturity beyond his years all season, steamed all week about his poor performance last week against Southern Miss and vowed he would bounce back on Saturday.
“Last week really wasn’t us and we wanted to come out here and redeem ourselves, and I think we did that,” Godfrey said. “We had a chip on our shoulder. We wanted to get this win after that loss last week.”
UCF overwhelmed Tulane from the start of the game with a jaw-dropping first quarter never before seen in school history. The Knights scored on the first play of the game (a 95-yard kickoff return by McDuffie) and with 17 seconds remaining in the first quarter (a 46-yard run by Murray) and several other points in between for a 31-0 start. The 31 points were the most ever scored in a first quarter by the Knights, breaking the previous record of 28 against Millersville University in 1991.
How dominant were the Knights to start the game? They had eight first downs, 143 total yards, three long touchdowns, a 35-yard field goal by Nick Cattoi and McDuffie’s spectacular kickoff return in the first 15 minutes. And defensively, UCF limited Tulane to two net yards in the first quarter and forced two turnovers.
Now, all that stands between the Knights and a spot in the C-USA title game at Bright House Networks Stadium is a defeat of 1-10 Memphis in the Liberty Bowl.
“One more to go and we clinch the East and I’m pretty sure that will let us host the conference championship,” said Miller, who had seven tackles. “That’s what our goals were at the beginning of the season. We’ll have to do the same things this week and really focus because as a defensive player there are no letdowns each week.”
John Denton’s Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at [email protected]