The University of South Florida football program had never been shut out at home – until Friday.

UCF (8-3, 6-1 AAC) held South Florida (4-8, 3-5) scoreless to pick up a 16-0 win at Raymond James Stadium. It was only the third time USF had been shut out in program history.

The Knights entered Friday’s game allowing just more than 278 yards per game to rank No. 4 in the nation. That statistic improved vs. South Florida, which could only muster 200 yards in the contest. The Knights turned away South Florida’s only two forays into the red zone.

“That’s the job of the defense, not to let them score any points,” UCF junior defensive lineman Thomas Niles said of the dominating performance. “We did that. That’s hard to do in college football. So, we’re really proud of that. We play with a chip on our shoulder. We always do.”

After a scoreless first quarter, UCF (8-3, 6-1 AAC) finally lit the scoreboard with a long, punishing drive. Sophomore quarterback Justin Holman found Breshad Perriman with a seven-yard touchdown pass to cap a 17-play, 80-yard drive that sucked 7:32 off the clock. The drive began late in the first quarter and ended with just more than 10 minutes left in the first half.

“We had some really good, sustained drives,” UCF head coach George O’Leary said.

After a three-and-out from the UCF defense, the Knights went back to work. Rannell Hall took a handoff and headed right. He reversed field, made a couple moves, broke a tackle and dove for the end zone. At the end of the highlight reel run, it was a 21-yard TD that put UCF on top 14-0 at halftime. That scoring march was an eight-play, 73-yard march.

The Knights’ defense made the first of many big stops early in the third quarter. On 4th-and-1 at the UCF 26-yard line, linebacker Troy Gray stopped Darius Tice for no gain to keep the Bulls off the scoreboard.

The defense then got into the scoring act. Thomas Niles wrapped up USF quarterback Mike White in the end zone. White tried to throw the ball on his way to the turf, but was called for intentional grounding in the end zone. That penalty resulted in a safety for UCF, giving the Knights a 16-0 lead with five minutes remaining in the third.

The defense came up with another big stop moments later. UCF fumbled on its first play following the safety, with USF taking over at the Knights’ 16-yard line. But the Bulls couldn’t gain a yard and attempted a fake field goal that resulted in an incomplete pass. With just over five minutes left in the game, USF looked like it would avoid the shutout. The Bulls reached the Knights’ 1-yard line with a first-and-goal. But stiff goal-line defense on first down, a sack and USF personal foul on second down and two USF incompletions kept the shutout intact.

With the victory, UCF will now play for at least a share of the American Athletic Conference title Thursday at East Carolina.

“It was a good win by the seniors, now they need to take us home now with that conference championship against East Carolina,” O’Leary said. “I’m just happy for the kids and excited for the coaches and the program. We give ourselves an opportunity to go out and get another conference championship.”

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