The Bowl by the Bay was more like a Bust by the Bay on the field for the local team on Saturday night at the St. Petersburg Bowl inside Tropicana Field.
With a 45-24 thumping, the UCF Knights conclude another season of highs and lows courtesy of a new offensive look that was supposed to open things up a bit, and plenty of talent returning on the defensive side of the ball.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: See SportsKnights video showing the highs and lows of the Bowl game
LIVE COVERAGE REPLAY: See our play-by-play coverage from the press box
BOWL WEEK VIDEOS: See all the videos showing the Knights’ week behind the scenes
TEAM MATCH UPS: Read our story on how the two teams compared before the game
Needless to say, it took some time to get moving in the right direction. Among the early obstacles were a suspect offensive line and inexperience in the defensive backfield. And those deficiencies reappeared at the absolute worst time, against a Big East team that was supposed to be the stepping-stone into primetime for UCF.
Is it too late for the Knights to accept a bowl bid against one of those other Conference USA opponents? It doesn’t matter much which one. Bring on Ohio, Air Force, Middle Tennessee State, or even a rematch with Nevada, because the Rutgers Scarlet Knights were just too much to handle.
What’s worse, the downfall on Saturday was of their very own doings.
The Knights were held to 35 yards rushing on 30 carries, as those on the offensive line were beat in the trenches time and time again. Six sacks were allowed and the Knights converted only 4-of-15 attempts on third down along with being stuffed short on their only fourth-down attempt.
“Our offense never really got on track the whole day,” said UCF Coach George O’Leary.
They may not have fared much better today or tomorrow, either.
Quarterback Brett Hodges took the brunt of the punishment and was eventually knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter. He finished his last collegiate outing 13-of-28 for 175 yards with two touchdowns, both to Kamar Aiken, and two interceptions in the loss.
“They really did bring the pressure,” said Hodges. “And when you get pressure on a quarterback like that it makes it easier on the secondary and they did what they wanted to do and they succeeded at it.”
The first turnover came on the opening drive of the game, which led to a Rutgers’ score. The other, which came while trailing 21-17, was taken back for a touchdown just before the halftime break and essentially took the Knights out of the contest for good.
“You can’t give a team 14 points. That’s what we did in the first half,” said O‘Leary.
Then the Scarlet Knights returned to the field in the third quarter and took the opening drive in for another score to extend the lead once more.
While UCF struggled to move the ball, Rutgers made it look effortless in attacking through the air for 294 yards and two scores. The once feared defense of the Knights repeatedly missed tackles, recorded a mere one sack, and intercepted one pass while allowing 8-of-15 third-down attempts.
“We just gave up too may big plays and you can’t do that against a team like that,” said defensive end Bruce Miller.
So it’s back to the drawing board for the UCF Knights, who following another season of promise and hope have left fans with a bad taste in their mouths all over again. With UCF’s third-straight bowl loss the program’s postseason football record now stands at (or slouches at) 4-7 all-time since 1987.
But as is the old adage – there’s always next year.
“There’s a lot of good players coming back that are only going to get better with maturity,” said O’Leary, while looking ahead.
Among them are many from that group of offensive lineman and defensive backs who will likely be seeing red until the 2010 season comes around and offers up a chance at redemption.
But right now, looking ahead is all anyone can do after high hopes were once again not realized, this time while going for broke over by the bay.
Reprinted with permission of KnightNews.com’s sports partner, OrlandoSportsCentral.com.
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