A UCF offense that allowed just one sack in the first two games surrendered six on Saturday night. A UCF team with just one turnover in the first two weeks kicked the ball away twice this time around. And a Knights team that largely avoided errors repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with one penalty after another.
Yep, it was that kind of forgettable, frustrating night for the Knights Saturday at Florida International.
In a game many UCF players dubbed a dream come true because of the chance to return to South Florida, the Knights proved to be their own worst enemies in a nightmarish 17-10 loss to Florida International.
Playing before an FIU Stadium record crowd of 20,205 fans, UCF (2-1) watched two turnovers result in 14 momentum-turning points for FIU (3-0). The Knights managed only a long touchdown drive in the first half and a late field goal in the fourth quarter. UCF’s hopes of a comeback died when FIU recovered an onside kick with 1:30 to play.
“It’s very uncharacteristic of us to make turnovers and penalties like the way that we did in this game,” UCF defensive tackle Victor Gray. “If we want to be a championship team, we can’t make mistakes like that again.”
Quarterback Jeff Godfrey, a Miami native playing on the field where many of his high school exploits took place, was sacked six times, one of which resulted in a fumble that was returned 51 yards for an FIU touchdown just before the half. UCF argued that Godfrey’s arm was going forward on the play, but referees refused to stop the action and replay the play.
“That was just a bad play by Jeff and a huge momentum swing in the game,” UCF coach George O’Leary said. “It was 7-0 and to give up a play like that on the last play of the half … we had our opportunities, but we didn’t take advantage.”
A UCF team that had dreams of a 12-0 season and a rise to becoming a BSC-buster of sorts lost for the first time since last December. The Knights had won the previous six games, but Saturday was never a possibility because of the avalanche of errors.
“I’m surprised at the turnovers and penalties. We had about four offsides and we normally don’t do that. They had a good atmosphere out there and our guys were just jumping,” said Godfrey, who completed 17 of 27 passes for 181 yards while also running for a net 25 yards. “(Penalties and turnovers) are something that we can’t do and it just killed us.”
A UCF team that dominated the ground game the previous two weeks ran for just 85 yards in the game. The Knights outgained FIU 266-204, but were done in by their critical mistakes. UCF was flagged nine times for 56 yards.
“We beat ourselves all night. That’s uncharacteristic of us and we have to fix it before next week,” said UCF senior tackle Nick Pieschel, a Fort Lauderdale native. “They were fast and athletic, but this was on us because we messed up. It was awful.”
Up next for the Knights is arguably the biggest nonconference game of the season. UCF plays at BYU on Friday night in a game that will be nationally televised by ESPN.
“This was a frustrating day and we didn’t come out with the same focus and intensity that we’d had the past couple of weeks,” senior defensive end Darius Nall said. “We just have to stick together as a team and stay like a family.”
FIU won despite getting little from standout receiver T.Y. Hilton, who injured his right hamstring just before the half and briefly left the game. Hilton, who had two 70-yard TD catches last week against Louisville, caught only three passes for 30 yards.
UCF’s two drives in the third quarter were undermined by sacks, and the Knights missed a scoring opportunity early in the fourth period when senior Nick Cattoi pulled a 51-yard field goal try.
UCF’s string of consecutive quarters without giving up a touchdown came to an end early in the third quarter – but it came after the defense was put in a tough spot following a special teams turnover.
Josh Robinson, a Sunrise native who needed 25 tickets to fill his ticket requests for family and friends, unsuccessfully tried to scoop a bouncing punt at the 6-yard line. Robinson, who similarly fumbled two punts earlier in the opener, never got a handle on the ball and FIU’s Gregory Hickman. Two plays later, FIU’s Darriet Perry scored from four yards out for the 24th rushing TD of his career.
“That was awful. There was no reason for (him trying to field the ball) and that’s the second time that he’s done that,” O’Leary said. “You just can’t play as an individual out there because it’s a team game. You can’t go trying to make plays like that.”
The game was tied at 7-all at intermission following a particularly bad break in the final seconds of the second quarter. Godfrey was hit by blitzing cornerback Tevin Blanchard, and as he attempted to throw the ball away, he bobbled it away. FIU’s Isame Faciane scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 51 yards for the tying touchdown with six seconds remaining in the half
“We were supposed to have a hot route on the play, but it didn’t go down,” Godfrey recalled. “I was trying to get the ball out of my hands, but my arm was going forward. I don’t think it was a fumble, but they gave them the touchdown.”
Godfrey was under pressure throughout the first half as FIU relentlessly blitzed him. He was sacked three times and forced to scramble on several other occasions. FIU’s sack and fumble return resulted in a 17-yard loss for Godfrey, dropping his rushing total to 49 yards in the first half. He technically ran for 74 yards in the first two quarters, but 25 yards of loss yardage dramatically dropped his total.
UCF was uncharacteristically sloppy in the first half, getting penalized six times. The Knights were penalized just nine times in the first two games combined. Things got so bad at one point that UCF was hit with two penalties on the final play of the first half, one of which was enforced on the second-half kickoff.
UCF jumped to a 7-0 lead early in the second period with a drive for the ages. The Knights drove 94 yards in 18 plays, a march that lasted a whopping 10 minutes, 40 seconds. The Knights converted on third down three times on the drive and got assistance from three FIU penalties, the final one on a pass interference in the end zone on third down.
Godfrey dove across from one yard out for a touchdown and his sixth rushing score of the season. The drive was the longest since an 18-play march in 2009. It was the first drive of at least 10 minutes since 2006.
But in the end it there were too many mistakes, too many turnovers and too much pressure on Godfrey for UCF to capture a win in South Florida.
“We harped all week about protecting the ball and turning it over like we did is not what we’re all about and what we do,” said tight end Adam Nissley, who had four catches for 53 yards. “We had a lot of penalties and adversity and we just didn’t overcome it.”