One day last week, UCF football coach George O’Leary abruptly ended a sluggish practice by sending his team off the field and back to the dressing room so that it could start the entire practice over again.
Unfortunately for the Knights such an option was not available last Saturday night. UCF lost 17-10 to FIU because it allowed six sacks, committed 10 penalties and turned the ball over twice leading directly to 14 points.
Here’s five things that we learned from UCF’s frustrating loss to Florida International on Saturday night in Miami.
- UCF’s errors and mental mistakes were uncharacteristic for this team. Maybe the most shocking aspect of the Knights loss was that they were their own worst enemy. Rarely ever does an O’Leary team beat itself with penalties and turnovers, but that was the case Saturday night. The offense could never find its rhythm because of motion penalties, some of which have to be attributed to FIU’s tremendous speed off the edge. But UCF’s two turnovers – quarterback Jeff Godfrey fumbling as he was hit by a blitzing cornerback and Josh Robinson bobbling another punt at the 6-yard line – were simply a matter of players trying to do too much on a play. Sometimes it’s simply better to take a loss on a play and live to play another down than it is to gamble and risk a turnover. Without those two UCF gaffes, FIU might have never found the end zone and UCF could have escaped South Florida with a narrow victory. But two high risk, high reward plays proved costly for the Knights and they cost them a shot at getting to 3-0.
- Teams will continue to blitz Jeff Godfrey until UCF proves it can stop it. Godfrey came into Saturday’s game having not been sacked in the first two games, but he was dropped six times by FIU. And quite frankly, that number could have hit double digits if Godfrey weren’t so cat-quick in the pocket and able to avoid pressure. UCF’s offensive line didn’t do a good job picking up the pressure off the edge, but it’s not all on them. Godfrey held onto some passes too long, allowing the blitzers to get home. And on the play where Godfrey was hit, bobbled the ball and FIU returned it 51 yards for a touchdown, a wide receiver blew a hot route read, forcing Godfrey to try and improvise. Assuredly, teams will see the game film and notice the success that FIU had pressuring Godfrey. College football is a copycat sport, so expect BYU to do the same thing on Friday night. If UCF can figure out a way to pick up the pressure, there should be opportunities for big plays down the field.
- Josh Robinson’s punt return woes are baffling. There’s not a more physically gifted player on UCF’s football team than Robinson, who has played like an All-American cornerback through the first three games of the season. But things just haven’t clicked for Robinson as a punt returner. He fumbled two punts against Charleston Southern, but none were as costly as the one that got away Saturday at FIU. First, Robinson let the short punt hit the ground and then tried fielding the rolling ball at the 6-yard line. He was never in possession of the ball, getting hit just as it hit his hands. Two plays later from the 4-yard line, FIU scored the first touchdown against UCF’s defense this season and pushed across what proved to be the game’s winning points. Robinson was replaced late in the game as UCF’s punt returner by redshirt freshman J.J. Worton. UCF’s coaches want Robinson to win the return job because his speed and shiftiness make him a threat to score on any play, but his decision-making on fielding punts has to be better.
- UCF never established its running game to keep FIU off balance. UCF had plans of negating FIU’s speed by pounding the ball inside with its big offensive line and its three standout running backs. While UCF did put together one of its longest scoring drives in years – 18 plays, 94 yards and 10 minutes, 40 seconds – the Knights had little success running the ball the rest of the way. Ronnie Weaver ran for just 34 yards on nine carries, while Brynn Harvey (31 yards on six carries) and Latavius Murray (13 yards on six carries) also struggled to find much room inside. Godfrey ran 19 times for 81 yards, but his total was hurt severely by his 40 loss yards on sacks. The Knights were forced to play from behind much of the second half, negating the run game. And penalties and sacks kept the Knights in bad down-and-distance situations so that running the ball wasn’t feasible.
- The Knights must rebound on a short week. A great amount of frustration was coursing through the team after the game because of the feeling that it had beaten itself more than anything. Sure, FIU played well, but UCF knows it likely would have won without the two turnovers and the penalties. Here’s to hoping that the anger will carry over to this week as the Knights prepare for BYU in a nationally televised showdown. The short week of preparation is a concern with the Knights not arriving back to town until early Sunday morning and the team flying to Utah on Thursday. UCF’s coaching staff used the ride home from Miami to break down film and the team was back on the practice field Sunday night, which is usually a day off. To win in Provo, Utah, UCF knows it will have to avoid critical mistakes, run the ball better and execute in crunch time. Last Saturday was an uncharacteristic night for the Knights and here’s to hoping that they take out their frustration on BYU before the ESPN audience.