Home sweet home.
Since the opening of Brighthouse Networks Stadium in 2007, the Knights are a commanding 17-7 at home including a 12-3 record against Conference USA opponents. The three losses occurred in the dismal 2008 season, and UCF has not lost to a conference opponent at the Brighthouse since.
Nothing changed Saturday against C-USA Western Division foe Rice. The 2010 UCF homecoming game was more like a coming out party than a competitive football game. The Knights proved they deserve to be mentioned at the top of the list of Conference USA title contenders, punishing the Rice Owls 41-14.
UCF came out firing with a 59-yard pass from freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey to senior receiver Kamar Aiken on the very first play from scrimmage.
It was all UCF from that point.
The Knights dominated on offense, racking up 391 total yards and 33:19 in time of possession. UCF now ranks second nationally in time of possession, validating the offensive production and ability to move the ball.
Former walk-on running back Ronnie Weaver scored 3 touchdowns against Rice and Godfrey rushed for one score of his own and also threw a touchdown to tight end Adam Nissley on a fourth-and-goal. Later in the fourth quarter, new backup quarterback L.D. Crow, promoted due to the season-ending ACL injury to Rob Calabrese, threw a 40-yard touchdown to Ricky Kay.
Of course, this game was not only about UCF’s offense. The defense was impressive once again, allowing only 41 yards of offense in the first half and 229 yards overall. The Knights defense now rank 8th nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 13.9 points per game. Led by Bruce Miller and Darius Nall, the UCF defense continued to state its claim as one of the best defenses in all of college football.
Homecoming is quickly becoming one of the best UCF traditions, as many former Knights were on-hand to watch the pummeling of the Rice Owls. Most notably were Daunte Culpepper, Kevin Smith and Joe Burnett. Each of the three players had their jerseys retired for their outstanding play in college and they were introduced to the fans at halftime to the tune of numerous standing ovations.
Though it was a great day for UCF football, fans and friends alike, the focus has now shifted to a colossal matchup between Conference USA rivals and Eastern Division leaders. The Knights will host East Carolina on Saturday in a battle for sole possession of first place in C-USA’s Eastern Division. The game has already been hyped as the most important game in UCF history.
And it is.
Both teams have won their last nine games against Conference USA opponents. Both teams have received votes to be in the Top 25 in the college football polls. Both teams are vying for a spot in a BCS league. Oh, and East Carolina is the 2-time defending conference champions.
This is UCF’s chance to separate themselves from the competition, to prove they are important on the national stage, and to finally assert themselves as a consistent winning program. If the Knights can win this game, they will have the inside track to the Conference USA Championship game.
Easier said than done. UCF has struggled in the past against East Carolina, with a disappointing record of 1-8 against the Pirates. ECU boasts a dynamic offense with new coach Ruffin McNeill’s run-and-shoot style attack similar to his previous Texas Tech offense under former head coach Mike Leach. The Pirates’ offense ranks 11th nationally in passing and 16th in scoring during the 2010 season. Their defense, however, has been suspect so far this season placing in the bottom 15 in points allowed with 35.3 points per game.
If UCF wants to continue their winning streak and undefeated season in conference, they need to exploit the weaknesses on the ECU defense. The offense needs to move the ball consistently, get first downs, and put points on the scoreboard when the opportunities are there. Too many times in the past has UCF failed to concert on their scoring chances – see N.C. State and Kansas State. The kicking game for the Knights has been pathetic. Kicker Nick Cattoi seems to have forgotten that he plays for UCF and not FSU, missing most of his kicks wide right or wide left. This time, it can’t happen. ECU is too skilled on offense for UCF to miss opportunities to score.
Another important issue is the defense. If the Knights defense is able to stall the East Carolina offense, create turnovers, and put the ball back in the hand of Jeff Godfrey and the UCF offense, the Knights will pull off the victory.
The UCF players are already well aware of what’s at stake here in this game. Even though they are an early 7-point favorite, the Knights are focused and poised to beat the Pirates for the first time since 2005.
UCF is the 3rd largest school in the nation in terms of attendance. The Knights deserve a sellout on Saturday against their hated division rivals. Come out and support YOUR team. Come out and support YOUR school. UKNIGHT against East Carolina on Saturday at 3:30pm at Brighthouse Networks Stadium – Home of the UCF Knights.