The sequence had a signature feel even as the play was still unfolding. Second-and-nine. Blake Bortles takes the snap. He evades one sack, then another. He somehow manages to keep his balance despite dangerously crouching on the ground. Scrambling, he evades one more defender as he lets the ball fly to receiver J.J. Worton along the sideline. A gain of 31 yards.
Thursday was Bortles’ night, plain and simple. And with the junior quarterback at command under the bright lights on ESPN, there was no way UCF was walking out of Bright House Network Stadium without another checkmark in the win column.
Bortles accounted for 367 of the No. 17/20 UCF football team’s 452 total yards in its 41-17 win over Rutgers. As a result, he led UCF (9-1, 6-0) to matching the program’s best record in conference play since joining a league in 2002.
“I thought it was a very good win for UCF. We dominated the first seven possessions with six scores,” UCF head coach George O’Leary said. “I thought Bortles had an exceptional game as far as taking plays that were not there and making something out of them.”
UCF scored early and often from the get-go.
In the game’s first series, Bortles locked in on sophomore receiver Breshad Perriman streaking toward the left side of the end zone. The two connected before Perriman was pushed out of bounds to give UCF a 7-0 lead.
Junior defensive back Clayton Geathers’ interception at the 40-yard line in UCF territory on Rutgers’ next possession spurred the Knights on another scoring drive. UCF moved down field with ease, and running back Storm Johnson broke several tackles as he ate up 12 yards before diving across the end zone line for his 10th rushing touchdown of the season to make it 14-0.
In the first series of the second quarter, UCF freshman running back William Stanback trucked over RU freshman defensive back Anthony Cioffi to pick up 20 yards and advance the Knights to the 12-yard line. Four plays later, Johnson crept one yard for another touchdown and 21-0 edge.
“It was a classic lowering your shoulder and running through the guy… It was everything you teach,” O’Leary said of Stanback’s SportsCenter No. 1 Top Play. “He’s only a freshman, but if he keeps improving fundamentally, I think he is going to be a whale of a player. I really do.”
Rutgers (5-5, 2-4) struggled through its next possession until a fake punt to fullback Michael Burton sparked some life into the Scarlet Knights. He picked up 38 yards before he was brought down just outside of the red zone.
Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova found Brandon Coleman for a big gain, setting up first-and-goal on the 1-yard line. UCF’s defense was impenetrable for the first three downs, but the Scarlet Knights came through on their second fourth down conversion of the drive to get on the board, 21-7, with 5:59 to go in the half.
Bortles responded with a 7-yard touchdown run that capped an 11-play, 79-yard drive, which included his exceptional 31-yard toss to Worton.
“I just try not to get tackled, really,” Bortles said of his scrambling skills. “I know if I break out of the pocket, our receivers are going to find somewhere and I’ll be able to get the ball to them. That’s all I try to do is just stay alive and extend the play.”
Rutgers snuck in one more touchdown before halftime after blocking UCF’s punt attempt from its own 34-yard line. Freshman receiver Andre Patton landed on the ball in the end zone to inch the gap, 28-14.
The offensive deluge lightened up in the second half as the Knights settled for a 32-yard field goal by Shawn Moffitt to increase their lead, 31-14, on their first drive after the break. It was the only scoring play for either team in the third quarter.
The Knights got some more out of their offense in the fourth quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run from Stanback and a 42-yard field goal from Moffitt. Meanwhile, Rutgers could only manage a 35-yard field goal with 33 seconds remaining to rest the score at 41-17.
UCF plays its final home game of the season against rival USF at 8 p.m. on Nov. 29 on ESPN. If Cincinnati loses its matchup at Houston this Saturday, and UCF goes on to win against the Bulls, the Knights would clinch at least a share of the American Athletic Conference title.