It was the kind of poised and pulsating drive that will go down in UCF lore as the birth of quarterback Jeff Godfrey’s legacy as a Knight.
Sure, Godfrey opened eyes and made hearts race a week ago at Bright House Networks Stadium by directing a near comeback against NC State. But what Godfrey did on Saturday night in Buffalo – calmly and coolly directing a game-winning, fourth-quarter 90-yard drive – is the sort of stuff where legends are born.
Godfrey, UCF’s freshman phenom quarterback from Miami, converted two third downs and a fourth down on a 15-play, 90-yard drive and reserve tailback Ronnie Weaver scored from 14 yards out as the Knights defeated Buffalo 24-10.
Making the first start of his collegiate career, Godfrey looked like the dazzling, dynamic playmaker UCF has longed for at quarterback for years. He played mistake-free football by completing 15-of-24 passes for 130 yards and he avoided pressure by scrambling for another 44 yards.
“For a true freshman to do what he did, that’s unbelievable,” UCF coach George O’Leary gushed. “We saw some youth out there with him at times, but he settled down and when we had to make plays he made them.”
Godfrey’s steady play combined with another stingy defensive effort from UCF’s nationally-ranked defense helped the Knights improve to 2-1 on the season. UCF got a key defensive stop in the fourth quarter when senior defensive end David Williams stuffed the run on a fourth-and-one play to end a Buffalo (1-2) drive.
A crowd of 14,312 at University at Buffalo Stadium saw UCF get a Bruce Miller interception return for a touchdown and two touchdown runs by Weaver. Weaver, UCF’s third back used on the night, scored from two yards out with 3:55 to play to seal the victory.
“I just applaud my offensive line for opening up the holes there,” said Weaver, who finished with 49 yards on eight carries. “When we get a mindset of working together we can really do great things.”
UCF’s defense, which entered the game having allowed just 459 total yards and just 209 pass yards in the first two games, played well again, stuffing the Bulls repeatedly. Buffalo’s lone touchdown was aided by a questionable pass interference call in the third quarter.
UCF allowed 326 yards and 21 first downs, but just one touchdown. The Knights also picked off two passes – their first two forced turnovers of the season.
“It was a really big night for our defense, especially getting those turnovers,” said sophomore cornerback Josh Robinson, who broke up three passes. “We had to step up and make plays. I knew they were going to (Marcus Rivers) so I just tried to focus on him and play him like man-to-man. I want to be that shutdown corner for us.”
UCF wraps up its four-game non-conference portion of the schedule next Saturday against Kansas State (3-0) in Manhattan, Kan. The Wildcats beat Iowa State 27-20 behind 181 rushing yards from tailback Daniel Thomas. Kansas State threw the ball just 12 times and instead gave the ball to Thomas a career-high 34 times. The senior tailback from Hilliard, Fla., has run for 234, 137 and 181 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and six touchdowns in three games.
Godfrey came in the game brimming with confidence after leading a second-half rally a week ago against NC State. Godfrey ran for two touchdowns and put UCF in position for a tying score and then hung onto the starting quarterback job with a solid week of practice. Godfrey and Rob Calabrese, the starter in the season-opening win against South Dakota, split first-string repetitions during practice, and the decision was to go with Godfrey because of his ability to make plays with both his feet and strong right arm.
UCF also made a change at right tackle with Abre’ Leggins getting the start in place of Chris Martin, who did not make the trip because of an undisclosed injury. David Bohner also replaced four-year starter Blake Clingan at punter following a strong camp and a solid week of practice.
On the drive that proved to be the difference in the game, Godfrey had a dazzling 17-yard scramble to the right for a first down. Later, he converted a quarterback sneak on a fourth and inches. Then, facing a third-and-nine from the 27, Godfrey bought time with his feet and hit Brian Watters across the middle for a 13-yard pickup. From there, Weaver barreled up the middle for a 14-yard score that gave UCF a 17-10 lead it would not relinquish.
Raved Robinson: “We all saw what (Godfrey) did last week. Anybody willing to step up and make plays and not be afraid of the pressure is going to impress a lot of people.”
UCF caught a tough break in the third quarter, leading to the first defensive points allowed in the second half this season. UCF seemed poised to get a stop on a third-and-goal from the 16-yard line, but cornerback Josh Robinson was whistled for a controversial pass interference penalty. From there, Buffalo scored three plays later on a two-yard lob pass touchdown to tie the game at 10.
Calabrese, a junior from Islip, N.Y., entered the game to start the second half, but struggled in two possessions. The Knights couldn’t take advantage of a 52-yard kickoff return by Quincy McDuffie, giving the ball back after three plays.
As expected, Godfrey got his first-career start and didn’t seem one bit bothered by the road noise or the gusty 14 mile-per-hour winds. He calmly drove the Knights down the field on their first offensive possession, accounting for 49 of the 54 yards on a drive that ended in a Nick Cattoi 39-yard field goal.
O’Leary made creating turnovers a point of emphasis after UCF failed to get a fumble or interception in the first two games. And Miller, UCF’s All-American candidate, responded to that request in the second quarter, stepping in front of a shuffle pass and returning it 30 yards for a touchdown that put UCF up 10-3.
Defensive end Darius Nall forced the poor pass, hitting Buffalo quarterback Jerry Davis with a big hit. Nall, a junior, was one of the defensive stars a week ago against NC State with a sack and four quarterback hurries.
“That was one of those blackout plays where I just ended up with the ball,” Miller joked. “The defense forced him to pitch it early and I was in the right place at the right time. I just had to figure out which defense to run to there for a second. Fortunately we made enough plays to win the game.”
Godfrey’s first half was filled with highs and lows as he completed 11-of-18 passes for 109 yards and ran for another 17 yards. He had dazzling completions of 27 and 19 yards to Kamar Aiken on plays where he stood in the pocket and waited for the route to come open. Later, he had a fourth-down pass batted down and on a different possession he held the ball too long on a third-and-six play and took a seven-yard sack. The loss knocked the Knights out of field goal range and forced a punt.
A serious leg injury to Buffalo tackle Matt Ostrowski halted the game for some 15 minutes just before halftime. An ambulance came onto the field to take away the 6-foot-6, 298-pound junior. And a play later, UCF safety Reggie Weems intercepted a Davis pass near the goalline to turn away a Buffalo scoring threat.
Source: John Denton’s Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.