The UCF Knights entered Saturday night's tilt with now eighth-ranked University of Miami with virtually nothing to lose and everything to gain. Miami was expected to handle their lesser talented counterparts from Central Florida with relative ease, and anything above that would've been "a moral victory" for the Knights.
"I don't think any loss is a moral victory, but we fought hard," Knights linebacker Cory Hogue said following the game. "As a defense, we fought hard and fought to the end of the game."
Although the 27-7 final score isn't indicative of a competitive game, it was just that. The Knights defense bent, but didn't break for much of the game against a level of speed with Miami that can only be equated to games played on Sundays. UCF sacked potential Heisman quarterback Jacory Harris six times, and made the 'Canes fight for every yard. All the Knights needed was some consistent offense.
"Our team is a whole," Hogue said as he absolved the offense from blame. "We have to win as a team and lose at a team. We (the defense) try not to pay attention to what the offense is doing. If they put us in bad field position with a three and out or a turnover, we just need to go out and do our job as a defense."
Despite the 20-point outcome, the Knights were very close to giving the Miami Hurricanes an extreme level of discomfort in an unfriendly atmosphere. With Miami up 17-7, the Knights defense forced a punt. The snap sailed over punter Matt Bosher's head and he proceeded to kick the football out of the back of the end zone. The Knights were ruled to have the ball in a first and goal situation on the Miami two-yard line. The following series of plays changed the game.
On first down, the Knights ran an option to the short side of the field, and the Hurricane defense was all over the play. Quarterback Brett Hodges pitched the ball to running back Brynn Harvey who was swallowed up for a four-yard loss. On second down, Hodges misfired to wide receiver A.J. Guyton, and on third down, Hodges was hit from the blind side forcing the ball up in the air, and it was promptly intercepted by Miami's Colin McCarthy.
"Those three plays could have been diagnosed better,'' Knights head coach George O'Leary said as he called out those in charge of calling plays.
Pointing out play calling is usually a crutch, as no plays are designed to fail, but the first down option to the short side of the field against an extremely fast defense is head-scratching to say the least.
"That's not really (Hodges') value with the option," O'Leary said. "That was a series that could have turned the momentum of the game around, but we couldn't capitalize.''
If the Knights could've scored in that spot and cut the Miami lead to 17-14, there would've been a chance for a monumental upset. The UCF defense was stopping the run and putting pressure on the passer, and a momentum boost from the Hurricanes special teams miscue may have been enough to vault UCF over the proverbial hump.
"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.''
On the interception, Brett Hodges hurt his elbow and was taken out of the game. Opening day starter Rob Calabrese couldn't move the team at all, and the Knights simply folded as Miami ran off 10 consecutive points and controlled the clock for nearly 17 of the final 21 minutes.
"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.''
They were so close, yet so far away. It's far from a forgone conclusion that UCF would have continued their fine defensive effort if they had pulled within three points, or even if the offense would've sniffed the Miami side of the field again or much less the red zone. Still, it would've been interesting and perhaps worthy of a little more than a 30-second highlight on Sportscenter.