As it turns out, Marshall’s white out was a wash out as UCF once again flexed its considerable muscles against its biggest rival in Conference USA.
Freshman phenom quarterback Jeff Godfrey ran for two touchdowns, Ronnie Weaver pounded out a career-best 150 yards and UCF’s nationally ranked defense produced its fourth touchdown in the past four weeks as the Knights whipped Marshall 35-14 in rainy conditions.
“I told our guys that (Marshall) wanted to wear their white jerseys, but obviously they didn’t know how well we play in our black jerseys,” UCF senior linebacker Derrick Hallman said. “We wanted to make them regret picking those (white) jerseys.”
The victory was UCF’s sixth in a row against Marshall, their most heated rival from the past nine seasons. The Knights have now won three-straight times in Huntington, W.Va.
At 4-2 overall, UCF is off to its best start since 1998. Knights’ fans will undoubtedly remember that as legendary quarterback Daunte Culpepper’s senior season. Now, it’s clearly a new era, one dominated by the electric playmaking of Godfrey and a tough, opportunistic defense.
UCF also improved to 2-0 in Conference USA play and hasn’t lost a league game since Sept. 26 of last season, a winning streak of eight-consecutive games against C-USA foes. Also, UCF won for a second-consecutive week on ESPN, which provided national exposure for a Knights’ program that is clearly on the rise and potentially a championship contender in Conference USA.
“I thought our guys really responded to the distractions and the weather and handled it all really well,” UCF coach George O’Leary said. “I thought we did a lot of things right on both sides of the ball. That was a tough win because Marshall plays really well up here.”
Weaver, the former walk-on from Wabasso, pounded Marshall (1-5) all night with his hard running between the tackles. Weaver, who has replaced Jonathan Davis as UCF’s starting talback, ran for 130 yards two weeks ago against Kansas State and was even better Wednesday night. On Wednesday, he had six carries of at least nine yards, often shaking off tacklers along the way. His 30 carries were also a career high.
“A game like this really shows that our team is coming together,” Weaver said. “We have a feeling in games like this that it’s us against the world. We just try to band together as brothers and do the best we can.”
UCF used a 70-yard kickoff return from senior Jamar Newsome to start the second half and pulled away over the final two quarters.
Godfrey ran for a nine-yard touchdown in the first half and added a five-yard scramble score in the third quarter that put UCF comfortably ahead 21-7. For the game, he ran for 27 yards and the two scores and completed 11-of-21 passes for 138 more yards.
Said O’Leary: “He did it with his arm early and his feet late. He has the ability to make a lot of plays and that’s what you want out of a quarterback. He has the ability to take a bad play and make something good out of it.”
UCF smashed Marshall for 362 total yards and 22 first downs, moving the ball almost at will throughout the game.
“We came into this game knowing we had to be more physical and play like a dominant team,” tight end Adam Nissley said. “We really wanted to establish the run and that’s what we did.”
The only negative of the night for the Knights was a possible season-ending knee injury to reserve quarterback Rob Calabrese, who was hurt in the end zone after scoring UCF’s first touchdown of the night.
UCF now has 10 days to prepare for its homecoming game on Oct. 23 against Rice. The Knights routed the Owls 49-7 last season in Houston. UCF is 20-10 all-time on homecoming and beat Houston 37-32 last season on homecoming.
For a second time in three weeks, UCF had a game delayed by severe weather. On Sept. 25 at Kansas State, the Knights were sent to the locker room for 1 hour, 26 minutes during a vicious thunderstorm that included high winds and heavy rain.
This time, rain started falling just prior to kickoff, intensified as the game continued and was stopped with 6:06 left in the first half. Teams were in the locker room for an hour and then given 10 minutes to warm up once again. Because of the delay, halftime was shortened to three minutes – the same break that there is between quarters.
The rain wiped out much of the 23,601 fans in attendance, many of whom wore white in honor of Marshall’s white out promotion. The Thundering Herd petitioned the C-USA league office to wear white uniforms at home and UCF happily agree to don its black uniforms. The Knights are now 5-1 in black uniforms over the past two seasons.
UCF got a big defensive score when sophomore safety A.J. Bouye returned an interception 42 yards for a touchdown that put UCF up 28-7. It is the third time this season that the Knights have returned an interception for a touchdown, a school record. Also, it’s the fourth defensive touchdown in four games for the Knights.
UCF entered the game ranked second nationally in passing efficiency defense (92.29 rating), fifth in passing defense (148.2 ypg), eighth in scoring defense (13.8 ppg) and ninth in total defense (265.2 ypg) – numbers that undoubtedly will improve after another dominant UCF performance.
UCF suffered a blow early in the game when Calabrese jammed his knee on a 2-yard touchdown run and was clearly in severe pain. Calabrese’s left knee buckled after he had crossed into the end zone and he hopped to the sideline without putting weight on his left leg. He sat on the bench the rest of the first half with his knee wrapped in ice and his head covered with a towel. And he needed the help of two athletic trainers to hop to the locker room when the game was halted because of a weather delay with 6:06 left in the first half.
“I’m hoping that the doctor is wrong,” O’Leary said during the weather delay, suggesting that Calabrese suffered a major knee injury. “It wasn’t a contact thing. He went to hand the ball to the referee and as he turned there was a pop.”
Calabrese, a junior, entered the season as the starting quarterback and led the Knights to a win against South Dakota. He gave way to Godfrey in the NC State game, and played sparingly against Buffalo and UAB. He did throw a touchdown pass against UAB while alternating snaps with Godfrey.
L.D. Crow, a Palm Harbor native who sat out last season after transferring from Stanford, moves up to the back-up spot behind Godfrey. Redshirt freshman Nico Flores is also an option at quarterback, especially as a runner. Promising freshman Blake Bortles also could see time if needed.
UCF led just 14-7 at the half despite outgaining Marshall 214-149 in the first two quarters. The Knights got a good push from the offensive line, especially on the right side with guard Nick Pieschel, tackle Jah Reid and tight end Adam Nissley, and rushed for 120 first-half yards.
UCF did as it pleased on both sides of the ball early in the game, storming to a 14-0 lead before the second quarter was 90 seconds old. Godfrey had completions of 18, 18 and seven yards to keep the Marshall defense off balance. And then Godfrey finished off the dazzling 11-play, 80-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown run that was a thing of beauty. Godfrey sprinted left, juked inside a defender and hit the gap for his third rushing touchdown of the season.
Marshall pinned UCF deep with a punt and then took advantage of good field possession to draw back within 14-7 midway through the second period. Six-foot-3 wide out Aaron Dobson beat UCF cornerback Justin Boddie (6-foot-2) and hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass. The play was reviewed for several minutes, but was ultimately called a touchdown when replays showed that Dobson made the acrobatic catch and somehow got his right foot inbounds. As he jumped, Dobson’s foot knocked over the end-line pylon – a violation – but was allowed because he was hit by Boddie with the ball in the air.
UCF mixed the run with the pass beautifully on the game’s first possession, driving 79 yards in 12 plays for a score that put UCF up 7-0. The Knights converted five first downs on their opening possession, three times coming through on third down. And Calabrese finished off the drive by faking a handoff and darting up the middle from 2 yards out.
John Denton’s Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.