It was home sweet home for the UCF football team as it topped FIU, 33-20, Saturday afternoon in Bright House Networks Stadium. After back-to-back weekends in Ohio, the Knights (2-1) pushed their win streak in home openers to five and have won 11 of their last 13 dating back to 1999.
Looking to avenge a 17-10 loss from a year ago in Miami to the Panthers (1-2), UCF came out with a well-balanced attack that went well over 350 yards for the third-straight week. The Knights totaled 431 yards, including 170 on the ground and 261 through the air.
Sophomore quarterback Blake Bortles had a career day with 251 yards on 20-of-30 passing, including a pair of TD passes to wideouts J.J. Worton (5 rec. for 94 yards) and Rannell Hall (2 rec. for 63 yards). On the ground, running backs Storm Johnson and Brynn Harveyran for 78 and 73 yards, respectively, with Harvey notching his 19th-career rushing touchdown.
“It’s a good win. I think you can always `what if?’ `What if it you fall on that ball, what if you do this.’ We go back and look at the tape and make the corrections and hopefully the kids can improve on those,” UCF head coach George O’Leary said after the game.
Taking in the first action from BHNS since Nov. 25 of last year, UCF fans packed the stands on a beautiful 87-degree afternoon. O’Leary was pleased with the turnout and especially enjoyed the raucous environment.
“I think (the fans) were great,” O’Leary added about the 40,478 in attendance. “I think they were loud and into the game. That is what you need. I was pleased with the student body. That’s where the traditions come from.”
UCF will enjoy its bye week prior to hosting its first SEC opponent in Missouri on Sept. 29. Game time is scheduled to be announced Monday afternoon.
After a dominant first half by UCF to limit FIU to just 26 yards and a 23-0 score, the Panthers’ halftime adjustments paid off as Jake Medlock, who completed just one pass in the first half, went 4-for-4 on the first drive after the break, including a 5-yard dump-off pass to running back Kedrick Rhodes to bring FIU within striking distance.
Two possessions following the FIU score, a duo of former UCF signal-callers put the Knights up, 30-7. After a 47-yard hookup between Bortles and Hall and an 11-yard rush by Harvey, senior Rob Calabrese took the snap in the “Wild Knight” formation and handed off to Jeff Godfrey, who made it a Miami-to-Miami connection when he hit Worton for the touchdown from 10 yards out. It was the 19th-career TD pass for the junior.
“That was amazing to get to throw the ball again,” Godfrey said about the play. “I haven’t thrown all preseason, so to go out there and throw that touchdown made me feel like a quarterback again.”
Worton added: “It was assigned that if it was man (coverage), then he (Jeff) would run it and I would block, which it was man, but he was generous enough to throw it to me and I made the play on it.”
FIU wouldn’t go away quietly as it received a pair of Darian Mallary rushing touchdowns to make it 30-20 prior to the point-after attempt. With the Panthers going for two to make it a one-possession game, the UCF defense stepped up and made Medlock miss on an attempt in the middle of the end zone.
That would be as close as the Panthers would get as the defense buckled down and salted the game away. UCF’s pass rush was relentless all game as senior Troy Davis sacked Medlock twice, including two forced fumbles which tied the UCF single-game record. Linebacker Terrance Plummer registered the Knights’ sixth fumble recovery of the season and led the squad in tackles for the second-straight game with 11.
UCF got on the scoreboard first on its second series of the game with a six-play, 49-yard drive fueled by a 36-yard connection from Bortles to Worton. Fullback Billy Giovanetti, who tied a career-high with three receptions in the game, caught a four-yard flare in the left flat and crossed the goal line for his second receiving touchdown of 2012, and third of his career.
The Knights tacked on two more after an FIU snap went over punter Jack Griffin’s head and out of the end zone. It was the first safety for UCF since Oct. 8, 2011, against Marshall.
Bortles set his new career-high for touchdown passes in a season in the second quarter on a 16-yard dart to the right flat to Hall, who did the rest of the work by breaking three tackles on his way to his third TD reception of the season. Harvey followed that up with his four-yard TD plunge before the end of the half.
UCF football season tickets are currently available for as low as $140, while single-game tickets and flex plans are also on sale. For more information and to place an order, call the UCF Ticket Office at (407) UCF-1000 or visit UCFAthletics.com. Attending a UCF football game is a great way to celebrate birthdays, corporate outings or any special occasion. Please ask about group packages today.