Playing in a dramatically different environment – some 2,500 miles away from Miami and this time in the mountains of Utah – it was another tough go for the UCF football team Friday night against BYU.
A week after losing to Florida International because of a botched fumble return and a lost fumble, UCF saw an early lead disappear when it again bobbled a punt return, later fumbled the ball away and threw an interception in a confounding 24-17 loss to BYU at Lavell Edwards Stadium.
“This is really tough because we had the lead coming into halftime and we just folded in the second half,” defensive tackle Victor Gray said. “The mistakes keep catching up with us. We made them last week and we made them this week again. We won’t be a championship caliber team if we keep making these kinds of mistakes.”
A UCF team that had dreams of going through the season undefeated and morphing into BCS busters, continues to be its own worst enemy with errors at the wrong time. The Knights have now lost consecutive games for the first time since 2008 and must try and regroup before Conference USA play begins in two weeks. UCF, who led 10-3 at the intermission and 17-10 late in the third quarter, also lost for the first time in 10 games when leading at the half.
UCF played well enough offensively and defensively to win, but was done in by three turnovers. J.J. Worton’s fumbled punt return at the 8-yard line with 11:47 to play put BYU in position for the game-winning touchdown. Worton was replacing Josh Robinson, who similarly fumbled a punt inside the 10-yard line last week in the 17-10 loss to FIU. BYU scored three plays after the turnover, breaking a 17-all tie and breaking the Knights backs.
“We turned the ball and you just can’t do that,” UCF coach George O’Leary said. “We had receivers dropping the ball. We had our opportunities but we didn’t take advantage. It’s a shame and then the kickoff coverage hurt us too. Sloppy coverage and a bad kick. We didn’t make plays and in the second half we had some bad decisions. But we have to move on and it’s a long season for a reason.”
UCF saw another scoring opportunity disappear late in the game when Dontravius Floyd was hit from behind and fumbled the ball at midfield. Quarterback Jeff Godfrey put UCF in position for some late-game heroics with a 58-yard pass to A.J. Guyton (163 receiving yards), but he was picked off with three minutes to play when intended receiver Latavius Murray tripped and fell.
Godfrey finished 15-of-23 for 260 yards, but threw his first interception of the year. The Knights still do not have a touchdown pass on the season.
“We’re mistakes that we shouldn’t be making and that’s how we are losing these games,” Godfrey said. “Close games like this, we have to finish like we started. We’re making mental mistakes, and on my play where I threw the interception I have to be smarter and throw the ball out of the end zone. I have to learn from that.”
Both teams entered the game feeling they had something to prove after self-inflicted losses a week earlier. UCF was penalized 10 times, yielded six sacks and turned the ball over twice in a 17-10 loss to Florida International last Saturday night in Miami. Meanwhile, BYU, in its first season as an independent, lost seven fumbles and allowed 47 unanswered points in a 54-10 loss to rival Utah.
Clearly fatigued from playing two games in seven days, UCF now gets a much-needed off week before hosting Marshall on Oct. 8 at Bright House Networks Stadium. It’s the start of league play for the Knights, the defending champions of Conference USA.
UCF endured a major scare late in the third period when Godfrey was dropped on a sack and didn’t immediately get to his feet. Godfrey appeared to have gotten poked in the eye on the sack and also injured his left arm.
Redshirt freshman Blake Bortles, an Oviedo native who grew up dreaming of directing the UCF offense, got his big chance and delivered immediately. He completed his first four passes, the second of which was a 15-yard strike to J.J. Worton on third-and-13 with the BYU crowd roaring. The drive ultimately stalled and UCF came away with no points when Nick Cattoi hooked a 35-yard field goal, keeping the game tied at 17-all.
UCF lost speedster Quincy McDuffie when he suffered a seriously sprained ankle on the final play of the third quarter. McDuffie, who finished with five catches for 50 yards, was hurt on an 11-yard gainer as he was tackled.
UCF delivered one of its most important drives of the season in the third quarter just minutes after BYU had knotted the game at 10-all. Godfrey found A.J. Guyton for a 54-yard pass down the sidelines for the longest play of the season. Five plays later, Godfrey outran the BYU defense to the corner for a score that gave UCF a 17-10 lead.
However, BYU answered right back with its first kickoff return for a touchdown in 13 years. Cody Hoffman took a kickoff on the right hash, broke left and scampered 93 yards untouched for the tying touchdown.
“All phases of the game, we have to win all three of them and that’s something we didn’t do,” Robinson said. “We’re questioning ourselves right now because too many people are making mistakes, myself included. We just have to (eliminate) those mental errors.”
A UCF defense that entered the game first in the nation in pass defense, second in total defense and third in scoring defense and pass efficiency defense made some major changes. Ray Shipman, a former basketball player at the University of Florida, got his first career start at outside linebacker in place of true freshman Leilon Willingham. Fellow freshman Troy Gray, a Kennesaw, Ga., native, also started in place of junior Jonathan Davis.
UCF’s defense held yet another opponent without a touchdown in the first half, helping the Knights build a 10-3 lead. UCF came into the game having given up just one touchdown all season and it followed a fumbled punt return in which the possession started at the 7-yard line. That meant from the Conference USA title game last December to Friday’s first half, UCF’s defense had yielded just one touchdown in 18 quarters.
BYU took advantage of great field position and tied the game up at 10-all midway through the third quarter. After forcing UCF to punt from its own end zone, BYU marched 38 yards in five plays and tied the game on a 16-yard sprint by JJ Di Luigi on a third-and-one play.
Just before that play, UCF was a victim of a bad break. BYU receiver McKay Jacobson bobbled a pass into the air, which was intercepted by UCF safety Clayton Geathers. After a replay review, officials ruled that the pass to Jacobson hit the ground, negating the interception.
UCF’s defense produced a huge turnover late in the first period when junior cornerback Josh Robinson picked off the 10th pass of his career. The play was set up when redshirt junior Lyle Dankenbring tipped Jake Heaps pass into the air and it was intercepted by Robinson, who returned the ball 17 yards to the 17-yard line.
Three plays later, the Knights were in the end zone when Godfrey kept on a belly play and scored from 10 yards out on the final play of the first quarter.
For a second time in as many weeks, UCF drove methodically on a 10-play drive for its first score. The Knights got runs of 17 and 7 yards from Ronnie Weaver and Godfrey throws of 19 yards to A.J. Guyton and 13 yards to Dontravius Floyd during the drive. But the march stalled at the 17-yard line and the Knights had to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Cattoi.
UCF’s defense came up big on BYU’s first drive of the game to turn away the Cougars. Robinson dived to break up a pass at the goal line, a play that forced BYU to settle for a field goal and a 3-3 tie early on. BYU receiver Ross Apo sustained a concussion on the play after being drilled by Kemal Ishmael following Robinson’s pass breakup.
Robinson, who fumbled a punt last week, bounced back with a solid effort. In addition to his interception, he had two more pass breakups, giving him 27 for his career. That ranks seventh all-time in UCF history.
One of UCF’s most valuable weapons in the first half was senior punter David Bohner, who routinely pinned BYU deep in its own territory. Bohner had three boots stop at the 11, 11 and 7-yard line in the first half.
“We still have all of our conference games and still have our goals in hand,” Robinson said. “We can still make our goal (of winning another C-USA title). We just have to stay together as a family and encourage one another.”