The UCF Knights opened their 2012 season with a 56-14 victory over the Akron Zips Thursday night at InfoCision Stadium in Akron, Ohio. A 28-point second quarter and four takeaways keyed the big victory for the Knights.
Running back Latavius Murray rushed for 108 yards, 86 of which came in the first quarter. In his UCF debut, running back Storm Johnson rushed for a pair of touchdowns. In the first start of collegiate career, Blake Bortles was an efficient 13-of-16, for 168 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. Rannell Hall caught four passes for 94 yards and two scores. Kemal Ishmael racked up nine tackles and a fumble recovery to lead the Knights’ defense.
“The players played with great effort, made some plays and we got some turnovers,” head coach George O’Leary said. “That was important. Overall, it was good effort. A lot of people played tonight, which was what we wanted to do. We were very productive in a lot of areas.”
“We got some things done offensively,” Bortles said. “But there’s still room for improvement. I know, personally I made some mistakes that I shouldn’t make and I can’t make. But overall, we had a good night as an offense and as a whole team. It’s definitely something to build on.”
Murray rushed for the first 68 yards of UCF’s 73-yard touchdown drive on the opening possession of the season. UCF grabbed the early lead on a 5-yard TD pass from Bortles to a wide-open Chris Martin. The Knights racked up 154 yards of offense and controlled the ball for 10:06 in the first period, yet led just 7-0 as the second quarter began. But the floodgates opened in the second quarter.
UCF went up 14-0 on the second play of the second stanza, when Murray plowed in from the 2-yard line. The Zips later fumbled a punt on a fair-catch attempt, giving UCF possession at the 9-yard line. Two Johnson runs later, UCF led 21-0. The Knights took advantage of a short field to go 45 yards for their next score, capped by a Bortles-to-Rannell Hall 18-yard scoring strike.
The lead ballooned to 35-0 just before the intermission, when UCF took advantage of another turnover. Defensive back A.J. Bouye forced a fumble deep in Akron territory and Cam Henderson recovered with just 24 seconds left in the first half. Johnson ran it twice, punching it in from 3 yards out. The Shawn Moffitt PAT made it 35-0 at the break.
“It was a good night for turnovers and that’s what you need to be doing when you’re aggressive on defense and aggressive on your special teams,” O’Leary said.
Akron got on the scoreboard for the first time on the opening possession of the third quarter. A 10-play, 80-yard drive was capped by a Dalton Williams-to-L.T. Smith touchdown pass of 18 yards. But the Knights answered quickly. Bortles went over the middle to Hall, who broke one tackle and out-ran the Zips defense for a 56-yard TD to make it 42-7. UCF went up 49-7 late in the third quarter when backup quarterback Tyler Gabbert connected with wide receiver Rob Calabrese for a 12-yard TD strike. It was Gabbert’s first career pass attempt and Calabrese’s first career reception.
Akron added another score with just more than nine minutes left in the contest to make it 49-14. UCF reserve running back Cedric Thompson capped the scoring with a 4-yard plunge late in the contest.