ORLANDO, Fla. – UCF Football just isn’t there yet.
At 4-4 the Knights are on the up-and-up from their winless 2015 campaign, but still have not learned how to close out close out the games that matter. Cleary, this team is still figuring out how to win the ones that need to be fought for.
“There’s not a lot to say about that one. We had them where we wanted them. At halftime, every message every guy was talking about was finishing them off. We just didn’t do it,” said Head Coach Scott Frost after the most recent heartbreaker.
It is a comment that sums up not only Saturday’s loss in Houston, but the lack of execution across the board in tight games.
With three closely contested meltdowns under their belt, the Knights have been frustratingly close to turning the corner – staying competitive enough to give hope to the UCFaithful, but still playing light years away from lockdown football.
Take a look at the numbers. In the second half of their three tight losses (Maryland double-overtime, last second to Temple, second half collapse in Houston) UCF has a -5 turnover differential and has been outscored 13-47.
A quick breakdown of the games themselves:
MARYLAND: 30-24 2OT L
- Tied the game at 17-17 with 12:04 to play in the fourth quarter, had two more chances to take the lead
- First drive after tie: 5 plays, 12 yards, 1:41 time of possession. Hamilton rushes twice for 10 yards, but McKenzie Milton 0-2 and one sack taken
- Second drive: 7 plays, 8 yards, 2:26 time of possession.
- Overtime: Knights strike first, Maryland responds in kind, and then Milton fumbles on the ensuing OT drive. Maryland capitalizes, ending the game on a short touchdown.
TEMPLE: 26-25 L
- UCF controls lead for 59 minutes, 29 seconds
- Temple’s last possession begins with 0:32 on the clock, from their own 30-yard line
- Owls put together gains of 20, 16 and 26 on three consecutive passes – all to Wide Receiver Ventell Bryant
- 8 yard passing touchdown from Phillip Walker to Keith Kirkwood seals the game with 0:01 seconds left on the clock
HOUSTON: 31-24 L
- UCF takes advantage of turnovers in first half, jumping out to an improbable 21-3 lead in the first half
- First half drives: touchdown, punt, punt, punt, touchdown, touchdown
- Second half drives: field goal, fumble, punt, interception, fumble, punt, turnover on downs
- Knights outscored 3-28 in the second half, unable to get in the end zone (or even near it)
If the Knights manage to hold on to a massive second half lead, stop just one more play from Temple, and finish out double overtime at home? They would be staring at a 7-1 record; undefeated in conference play with the AAC Championship game on the horizon.
Here’s an eye-popping stat for you: McKenzie Milton is 7-19 for 87 yards (36.8%) with 0 TD 1 INT, -1 rushing yard, and a long rush of 9 yards in the fourth quarter according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Running with a young gunslinger who likes to extend plays and make moves with his legs has had its share of exhilarating moments, but with the game on the line? The true freshman has shown his stripes.
They say a two-score lead is the most dangerous lead in sports, something Milton has struggled with as well this season. When up by a pair, Milton owns a 41.7% completion rate, has one touchdown and has been sacked five times for a net of -23 rushing yards. When leading by more than 14 – he has yet to throw a touchdown.
To be fair, nobody thought UCF would even be in a position to feel the soul-crushing defeat of a tight conference game. There was zero reason to expect anything from this team, especially after incumbent starter Justin Holman ceded his job to a true freshman.
The Knights are showing flashes in the pan and Scott Frost has this team trending upward, yet it is just a tease. They are talented and driven, but inexperienced; unable to shift into that extra gear winning programs seem to possess. There is hope for the future, but right now, growing pains should be the expectation – not the conference title.
Photo Credit: Aileen Perilla