On Friday night deep in the heart of Texas, the Knights unleashed their freshman phenom in full force and he certainly did not disappoint.
Facing a University of Houston program that knows a thing or two about passing the football, Godfrey passed for 294 yards, accounted for three touchdowns and converted big third and fourth down plays again and again as UCF throttled past Houston 40-33 at Robertson Stadium.
Once down 24-23, UCF responded with three scores to surge into the lead. The Knights had to hold on in the final minute as Houston tried driving for a tying score. But the Knights got a big pass break-up from starting cornerback Emery Allen to hang on for the win.
“That was a great, great win for our football program. It wasn’t always pretty, but we made enough big plays,” O’Leary said. “The defense came through and made some plays when we had to have them. This win really cements some stuff for us as far as the conference is concerned.”
Playing before a nationally televised audience on ESPN2, Godfrey showed why he is one of the most dynamic freshmen in the country. The Miami product completed 15-of-19 passes, ran for another 105 yards and routinely riddled Houston’s defense with his escapability against blitzes. Godfrey became just the second quarterback in school history to run for at least 100 yards, joining Vic Penn in 1999.
“Coming back how we did says a lot about us,” said Godfrey, who broke Daunte Culpepper’s freshman touchdown rushing record with his sixth score. “I kept telling our offensive line that we’ve been in this situation before and they did a great job of giving me time to throw.”
Just as it was a week ago in the convincing 49-35 whipping of East Carolina, UCF was virtually unstoppable on the ground and through the air. The Knights rolled up 522 yards of total offense, picked up 26 first downs and basically did as it pleased on a cold and windy night.
How dominant has UCF’s offense been of late with Godfrey running the controls? The Knights have punted just twice in the past eight quarters. The Knights scored on seven of their first 11 drives on Friday, a week after scoring on seven of eight drives in which they didn’t down the ball to stop the clock.
UCF put itself in position to earn a national ranking for the first time in school history. The Knights were ranked 29th and 32nd in the two polls this week and have never been ranked higher than 27th in school history.
“We want that ranking so bad. It would be beautiful for our school and our team,” senior wide receiver Jamar Newsome said. “(A ranking) is something that we’ve never had, but it would be glorious.”
With its fifth-straight win, UCF improved to 7-2 overall and 5-0 in Conference USA play, putting it firmly in control in the East Division. The Knights have now won 11-consecutive conference games over the past two seasons and have beaten Houston each of the past two seasons.
UCF hosts East Division rival Southern Miss (5-2, 2-2) next Saturday at noon in the final regular-season home game at Bright House Networks Stadium. The Knights could very well play at home again in the Conference USA title game on Dec. 4 – likely against either Houston or SMU.
“This was another big step toward our goal of winning the conference championship,” said linebacker Josh Linam, who had 17 tackles and picked up the slack when fellow linebackers Derrick Hallman and Lawrence Young went down with injuries.
Godfrey’s passing day proved to be the second-most efficient passing day in school history, trailing only a Culpepper masterpiece in October of 1995 against Sanford. Eleven of his 15 completions went for double-digit yards and three of the passes were for more than 40 yards.
“We’ve taken the training wheels off of him and he’s riding on the high bicycle right now,” O’Leary said. “He made so many plays out there for us and he’s playing with great poise. … Some of the stuff that he’s doing is starting to rub off on other players. He’s such a contagious player.”
Newsome, a rising star in the eyes of NFL scouts, caught five passes for 123 yards. Reserve tailback Latavius Murray ran for a score and kicker Nick Cattoi booted two field goals for the Knights.
Houston scored two touchdowns just after halftime to briefly storm ahead 24-23, but UCF responded immediately behind their charismatic freshman leader. He ran for seven yards on a third down, passed for seven more yards on fourth down and remarkably escaped the blitz to get free for a 25-yard pass to Newsome. Two plays, later Godfrey recovered his own fumble on a sneak play and scored to put UCF up 30-24. The 12-play, 76-yard response was easily one of UCF’s best drives of the season.
Said senior tackle Jah Reid: “That’s the tone of a good team – coming back and finding a way to win. It says a lot about this team.”
UCF entered the game ranked 13th in the nation defensively against the run, but had trouble all night stopping Houston’s quick backs from spread formations. Houston ran for 198 yards, and had 532 total yards and 27 first downs in the game. Houston back Michael Hayes ran for 110 yards, while Piland – Houston’s third-string quarterback entering the season — passed for 334 yards and four touchdowns.
Playing with the poise of a player well beyond his years, Godfrey went to work in the second quarter on picking apart Houston’s defense through the air. Facing a critical third-and-six, Godfrey found H-back Ricky Kay on a drag route for an 11-yard touchdown. However, Houston’s Wesley Scourten blocked the seventh kick of his career, leaving UCF ahead 13-3.
It wouldn’t stay that way long as UCF’s defense got a three-and-out and speedster Josh Robinson returned a Houston punt 35 yards. One play later, Godfrey settled into the pocket and found A.J. Guyton streaking down the middle of the field for a 44-yard touchdown. Cattoi’s kick put the Knights up 20-3.
Houston got back within 20-10 when freshman quarterback David Piland hit Patrick Edwards for 33-yard touchdown pass. Edwards would later catch a 32-yard touchdown that put Houston up 24-23. Edwards has 20 career TD catches and six in the past five games.
But UCF did not sit on its lead just before the half, perfectly moving the ball 80 yards in 14 plays to the 1-yard line. Godfrey had a 41-yard strike to Brian Watters on the drive, and he ran for five yards for a critical first down with five seconds to play in the half. A spike to stop the clock left just enough time for Cattoi to boot an 18-yard field goal that put the Knights up 23-10 at the half.
Godfrey was nearly flawless in the first half, hitting on 11 of his 14 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran eight times for 50 yards and his calmness helped the Knights convert five of seven third downs in the first two quarters.
UCF moved the ball at will early in the game, driving to the 15-yard line and the 4-yard line on its first two possessions. But the Knights failed to get points out of either drive when they went for it on fourth-and-three from the 15-yard line and failed and later standout tailback Ronnie Weaver fumbled the ball at the 2-yard line.
UCF instead relied on its defense to strike first. Miller made a phenomenal play when he rushed off the left edge, ducked back inside and picked off Piland’s short pass. But Miller was just getting started as he stiff-armed a Houston offensive lineman, tight-roped the sideline and ran over a would-be Houston tackler at the goal line for a touchdown that put UCF up 7-0. Miller also returned an interception for a touchdown against Buffalo, making him the only player in UCF history to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same season.
“That just came from watching film, recognizing the play and making a play for our defense,” Miller said. “Coach (Dave Huxtable) always has us prepared, and I recognized the play from watching film.”
John Denton’s Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.