Riding the hot hand of quarterback Jeff Godfrey and a defense that simply doesn’t give up touchdowns at Bright House Networks Stadium, UCF got just the kind of thorough, feel-good victory it needed Saturday night.
The hope now, of course, is that Saturday’s 41-0 pasting of Memphis can get the Knights back on track and once again on a path toward the Conference USA championship game.
UCF (4-4 overall and 2-2 in C-USA play) entered Saturday’s game knowing full well that if it can win out the rest of the way that it can earn a return visit to the C-USA title game. In that vein, Saturday’s thumping of Memphis (2-7 and 1-4) was a very good first step for a Knights’ team that played as if it was on a mission.
“It gives us so much confidence and energy knowing that we can still win this conference and be in the driver’s seat if we play like this game-in and game-out,” UCF junior cornerback Josh Robinson said. “We’re trying to get back to the conference championship and we just have to keep building it a game at a time.”
Told to play with the same aggressive nature that he had last season when he guided UCF to its finest season in school history, Godfrey attacked both on the ground and through the air. He accounted for 297 yards – 200 through the air and another 97 on the ground – and two touchdowns. And the defense kept alive a four-game streak of not allowing an offensive touchdown at home this season. The Knights have allowed only a field goal to Boston College and a fumble return score against Marshall at home all season, allowing them to outscore foes 142-9 at Bright House Networks Stadium.
“Coach told us this was a statement game, and I think we made the statement that we’re back,” UCF defensive end Troy Davis said. “We take a lot of pride in not letting teams scoring on us period. That (no touchdowns allowed at home), that’s a good stat.”
Undefeated at home (4-0), the Knights will have a short week before returning to work Thursday against C-USA West Division rival Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane improved to 5-3 overall and 4-0 in C-USA play by routing SMU on Saturday. UCF coach George O’Leary knows that the game will be one of the toughest of the season for the Knights.
“It was a good total team effort and we got to play a lot of kids, which is important because of the short week and Tulsa coming in here Thursday night,” O’Leary said. “Tulsa will test the waters pretty good because they have a very good offensive football team. It’s going to be a whale of a game Thursday night.”
UCF allowed just 134 yards and six first downs, while tying a season high in sacks with three. Memphis’ only semblance of a scoring opportunity came in the third quarter when it drove to the 24-yard line and missed a field goal try.
Playing before a crowd of 37,683 fans, UCF beat Memphis for a seventh straight time and improved to 22-10 all-time in homecoming games. The Knights have never lost to the Tigers as C-USA members.
Davis, the junior end, and linebackers Jonathan Davis (seven tackles) and Troy Gray (four tackles) registered sacks for a UCF defense that is looking for more of a pass rush. Safety Kemal Ishmael knocked Memphis wide receiver Tannar Rehrer out of the game with a jarring hit in the second quarter, while freshman walk-on cornerback Brandon Alexander and freshman linebacker Terrance Plummer shined in their first college starts. JUCO transfers Toby Jackson and Jose Jose also started their first games along the defensive line for the Knights.
UCF had a comfortable 21-0 lead at halftime thanks to some decisive play from Godfrey and its usual stingy defense at Bright House Networks Stadium. The Knights allowed just four first downs and only 82 yards in a smothering first half.
Godfrey showed no hesitation on an option play to the left, keeping the ball and hitting the hole for a 29-yard touchdown run. The play was not only the longest touchdown run of Godfrey’s career, but it was his 19th scoring run which ties him for seventh all-time in school history.
On UCF’s next possession, Godfrey attacked down the field – a piece of the offense that has been missing for most of the season. Godfrey found his former Miami Central teammate, Josh Reese, for a 48-yard gainer. Reese made a dazzling catch by coming back to the ball and reaching over Memphis cornerback Tauren Nixon to haul in the pass.
A possession later, Godfrey burst up the middle for a 35-yard run that equaled his career long. That set up McDuffie to race in from 19 yards out to put the Knights up 14-0.
“It was a mission of mine to be more decisive,” Godfrey said. “I had been doing a good job of staying in the pocket, but coach told me to go out and play the way that I did last year. I took the ball down the field and made some plays and some yards.”
Senior tailback Ronnie Weaver, who was voted one of the team captains this week along with middle linebacker Josh Linam, highlighted his final homecoming game with a 16-yard score midway through the second quarter.
UCF’s freshmen wide receivers, J.J. Worton and Reese, combined for nine catches and 113 yards. Brynn Harvey ran for 78 yards and a late score, while reserve quarterback Blake Bortles completed six of 10 passes for 44 yards.
With the way UCF’s offensive diversity mixed with the defensive shutout, the Knights were clearly playing with a purpose on Saturday. They wanted to distance themselves from disappointing losses to SMU and UAB and get in the right mindset before the showdown against Tulsa on Thursday.
“This was a statement game for us that we had to redeem ourselves after the losses to SMU and UAB,” Ishmael said. “We’re getting our minds back right.”