The Knights will face a familiar foe Saturday night at the Bright House, one that fell on the losing end of arguably the greatest play — and comeback — in UCF football history.
Temple arrives this week on UCF’s home field for the second time, in the teams’ fourth meeting together. As it stands the Knights are 2-1 against the Owls. For the most memorable of all of them — their first meeting — it was a comeback for the ages.
In 2013 the Knights were a team that had plenty of mid-game scares, but somehow always came out on top. Few could compete for being wilder than the Nov. 16 game at Temple, on a chilly afternoon in Philadelphia, when Blake Bortles threw a field-spanning bomb as he was hit, and J.J. Worton, watching the ball sail over his head in the end zone, leapt at full extension to catch it with one hand. The Knights, behind in the fourth quarter, came back to win the game in a charmed 12-1 season that saw them win seven games by a touchdown or less.
In 2014 the Knights ran away with a 34-14 win that approached blowout territory, in quarterback Justin Holman’s first season as the Knights’ starter.
By 2015, that was a distant memory. The Knights entered Philadelphia seven games into a winless season. They left having gained only 134 total yards in a 30-16 loss that ended any shot of UCF avoiding a losing season.
This season the Knights are 3-2 fresh off a 47-29 win over ECU on Oct. 1. That puts them at 1-0 in American Athletic Conference play, ahead of 3-3 Temple. The Knights are a game behind many of their conference opponents after missing Friday night’s game against Tulane due to Hurricane Matthew, which ripped through the Atlantic coastline of Florida on Friday.
The Tulane game has been moved to Nov. 5, when both teams previously had a bye week scheduled. That stroke of luck allows both teams to fill out their schedules and improve their chances of securing an automatic bowl game bid.
With evenly matched defenses that are among the best in the conference and very closely matched offenses — the Knights have averaged 35.2 points per game to Temple’s 33 — the game is set to be a slugfest.
As for who will lead the Knights out onto the field, UCF Head Coach Scott Frost played coy about the starting quarterback early in the week. Justin Holman, who had been out with a hamstring injury for two weeks leading into UCF’s game at ECU, returned to bash the Pirates, though not to the same degree as his temporary replacement, McKenzie Milton. Both were still possibilities as starters.
Milton had averaged 216.5 yards in the air and 17.5 on the ground in two games against Maryland and FIU so far this season. Holman averaged 122.67 yards in the air and 39 on the ground per game against South Carolina State, Michigan and ECU.
Will the Knights be able to stave off the offensive onslaught of senior Temple quarterback Phil Walker? He’s averaging 235.8 yards per game passing, though he’s lost a total of 21 yards rushing in six games this season.
The Knights’ pass rush could prove a problem for Walker, with players such as Shaquem Griffin regularly racing into the backfield to scare passers out of the pocket, and a high propensity toward tackles for loss. They’re the eighth best team in the 128-team FBS in sacks, with most teams ahead of them having played an additional game.
With a win, the Knights would be near the top of the East Division in the AAC. The game starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Bright House, broadcast on ESPNU and 96.9 The Game.
Winter Park football
The Wildcats had a week off to rest up thanks to Hurricane Matthew. They hit the road this week to face a struggling 0-6 Orlando University team that came just a safety shy of beating Colonial on Oct. 3, with quarterback Brandon Barbee throwing for 128 yards and running for 37.
The game kicks off at 7 p.m. tonight at University.
The Eagles dropped to 0-6 as their nightmare season continued with a shutout loss during their own homecoming game Monday, after a hurricaned-out Friday night game. That 34-0 beating by Lake Howell was the third closest the Eagles have come to a win this season.
This Friday the Eagles will have their best shot at a win so far against 0-6 Lake Minneola. The Hawks last week lost 18-6 to Mt. Dora. The Eagles will have to try for their first win on the road, doing it on three days’ rest when they travel to Minneola for a 7 p.m. kickoff tonight, Oct. 13.