By the end of a blustery Saturday night, a record crowd was mostly gone and Bright House Networks Stadium was half empty rather than rocking in celebration. On this night, there would be no defining, landmark victory for UCF and instead just the frustration of having missed out on too many opportunities.
When UCF failed to convert from the 2-yard line late in the third quarter when it trailed by just 10 points, its chances of defeating No. 9 Miami seemed to wither away. Ultimately a 27-7 loss to the rival Hurricanes left the Knights shaking their heads in frustration and left a crowd of 48,453 numb from something other than the windy conditions.
“It’s just so frustrating because we had so many opportunities but didn’t take advantage of them,” UCF quarterback Brett Hodges said. “What ifs are nice, but we’re sitting here with a loss right now. We had the opportunities, but didn’t convert.”
Hoping to take down the reborn, rebuilt Hurricanes and establish themselves among the Sunshine State’s Famed Big Three, UCF failed to produce an error-free performance. Their fatal flaw once again – as it has been much of the season – was an inability to get points after moving into scoring position.
UCF (3-3) got no points after driving to the 15-yard line on the first possession of the game. And the three-play possession from the 2 – when Brynn Harvey was dropped for a four-yard loss on first down and Hodges was intercepted after being blindsided – proved crippling for the Knights. Get 10, 14 or even six points out of those two possessions and it’s certainly could have been a different game for UCF.
“Going down the field and getting no points is so tough,” wide receiver A.J. Guyton said. “It’s two steps forward going down the field. And it’s one step back when you don’t get points.”
Head coach George O’Leary was baffled that yet another solid UCF effort continued to be sabotaged by red-zone woes. Those same problems led to the losses at Southern Miss and East Carolina and ruined the chances of upsetting the `Canes.
“I felt we didn’t do a good job of taking advantage of the opportunities that we were given,” O’Leary said in a postgame voice more subdued that normal. “It was frustrating seeing the offense come up short and not put up points on the board. We saw talent on both (teams), but their talent came to play.”
Miami, clearly back among the powers now after navigating its way through one of the toughest schedules in the country, improved to 5-1. The Hurricanes got 293 yards from Jacory Harris and 363 yards of total offense.
When it was over, Miami coach Randy Shannon gushed about the challenge his Hurricanes got from UCF. And he knew Miami needed one of its better efforts to win in Bright House Networks Stadium.
“It was a big game from that standpoint for us,” Shannon said. “We could not say this is just Central Florida from Conference USA. We knew they were a tough team, and if they get in it in the fourth quarter that they would play tough in the fourth quarter.”
UCF’s defense kept the Knights in the game by relentlessly pressuring Harris all game. UCF recorded six sacks, the most in a game since last season against East Carolina. Cory Hogue had two sacks, while Darius Nall, Bruce Miller, David Williams and Jarvis Geathers each dropped Harris once.
“Our pressure was great. We worked so hard the last two weeks and we got after the quarterback,” Nall said. “They couldn’t stop us.”
UCF electrified the largest crowd ever at Bright House Networks Stadium in the third quarter when they got within 17-7. Hodges hit on passes for 15, 41 and nine yards before finding Rocky Ross on an 8-yard slant pass for a touchdown.
Just minutes later UCF seemed poised to get even closer to putting a major scare into the `Canes. A high punt snap gave UCF the ball at the 2-yard line after an illegal kicking penalty. But UCF went backwards on an option play – a call that O’Leary said he himself wondered about. The series that again gave UCF no points was a turning point in the game, O’Leary said.
“Those three plays could have been diagnosed better,” O’Leary said. “That’s not really (Hodges’) value with the option. That was a series that could have turned the momentum of the game around, but we couldn’t capitalize.”
Had UCF been able to solve its red-zone woes Saturday night, an upset might have been possible. Instead, UCF was once again frustratingly left with what-if scenarios.
“We were equal to them. They had speed and we had speed too,” Guyton said. “We made some plays, but they made more plays. They capitalized on their opportunities and we didn’t.”
John Denton’s Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.