The Knights are knee deep in conference play this week, taking on Marshall Thundering Herd at press time in their second game of an 8-game Conference USA stretch that will go all the way to the end of the season.
But they’ve already started out with a bang after struggling against non-conference opponents early in the season.
The Knights got their groove back Oct. 6, trouncing the University of Alabama at Birmingham 42-7. The game was sweet revenge for a Knights team still seething from a 15-0 season-ending beating in 2008. By game time, the Knights were hoping for 56-0.
“We…did what we had to do against a very good offense, ranked 28th in the country,” Head Coach George O’Leary said.
The game opened the conference play for the Knights with a bang, as they continuously dominated the Blazers from the outset, and didn’t let up until the end.
In the meantime, the defense stuffed the Blazers, a team that’d gone more than 500 yards against Tennessee a week and a half earlier. They only gained 269 total yards against the Knights.
Meanwhile, UCF stormed to 399 total yards, including 228 on the ground.
But the Knights did have some embarrassing stumbles early on. In the second quarter, they gave up two fumbles deep within UAB territory. Their second, on a Ronnie Weaver-rush, was punched out within arm’s reach of the end zone. Two potential touchdowns disappeared because of those fumbles.
Not only did those fumbles seem to not affect the Knights, but they recovered with a massive string of three touchdowns on three straight possessions to ratchet the score up to 28-0 before the Blazers finally responded with a touchdown of their own in the third quarter.
By then, the Knights had found their groove, platooning freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey with junior quarterback Rob Calabrese successfully. Both would engineer touchdown drives in the game, with Calabrese throwing the Knights’ only touchdown pass, a four-yard sling to Brian Watters.
Godfrey threw for 137 yards, including a 44-yarder down the right sideline, and raced to 80 yards on the ground, averaging 8.9 yards per carry. Calabrese was 3-3 on passes, picking up 34 yards and rushing for 40 yards of his own, averaging 8 yards per carry.
Before and after his drive-ending fumble in front of the goal line, Weaver had two touchdown runs in the first half to give UCF its first two scores.
In the second half, the UCF defense proved more prolific than the UCF and UAB offenses combined, snatching a fumble and an interception and returning both for touchdowns. The Knights would gain 97 yards on turnovers in the game.
Cornerback Josh Robinson picked up a bouncing fumble and ran it back 56 yards for a touchdown to start the third quarter. Midway through the fourth quarter, 252-pound defensive lineman Troy Davis grabbed a pass midair and evaded tackles for 29 yards en route to a touchdown. Defensive back Kemal Ishmael also grabbed a pass to return it 12 yards.
“Anytime we score on defense, we’re all really excited because it doesn’t happen very often,” defensive end Bruce Miller said. “The offense also gets excited and pumped up.”
On defense, Miller again shined, with two tackles for loss including a sack that cost UAB six yards.
Heading into press time, the Knights were looking forward to another familiar foe at 8 p.m. Wednesday, as they traveled to Marshall to face the Thundering Herd. That story will be up after the game at wpmobserver.com.
Thankfully for the Knights, the Herd is off to one of its worst seasons in a decade at 1-4. Their most recent game was a 41-16 blowout loss in their C-USA opener against Southern Miss.
Last season, the Knights stunned Marshall with a 1-yard touchdown pass from Brett Hodges to Rocky Ross with 23 seconds left to win by a narrow 21-20 margin.