ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s official; the Knights (6-4, 4-2) are once again bowl eligible after dismantling the Cincinnati Bearcats (4-6, 1-5) Saturday afternoon in a 24-3 rout.
“I’m happy for our players. I told them you don’t get much in this life that you don’t earn and they’ve earned the success they’re having,” said Head Coach Scott Frost.
UCF’s sixth win of the season came in what is quickly becoming standard operating procedure, relying heavily on an aggressive, ball-hawking defense and getting just enough from their ground-heavy offense to win the battle of attrition.
Just a week after cementing their spot in the limelight with three defensive touchdowns, the Knights’ lights out play continued. The unit racked up five sacks, three turnovers, one touchdown on a blocked punt, and held the Cincinnati offense to 327 total yards to the tune of one short field goal.
Get this: in their last eight quarters the UCF defense has scored 28 points to the offense’s 33, a number that would have been 35–26, had a 32-yard fumble return for a touchdown not been cancelled out for a personal foul penalty.
“Our defense has gone from being really good to being so disruptive they win games for us,” said Coach Frost about the performance. “When you see a defense elevate to that level it makes it really easy for an offense and the rest of the team to succeed.”
Disruptive is an understatement. At no point did Cincinnati look comfortable while orchestrating on offense, even forcing a late-game quarterback change. UCF forced six three-and-outs while playing over half the real-time game minutes, completely out-hustling the Bearcats.
McKenzie Milton and company came out to a quick start, notching ten points in the first quarter and taking advantage of soft underneath coverage. At one point, he completed 13 consecutive passes – the second most in school history behind Daunte Culpepper’s 15.
Milton ended the day with 22 completions on 34 attempts for 150 yards and a touchdown, but averaged just 4.4 yards per completion and had his longest connection net just 21 yards.
“It’s simple, we have to protect better to get McKenzie time to throw downfield,” Frost insisted in a matter-of-fact statement.
Instead of the deep threat, UCF got by Cincinnati with receptions by nine different receivers and a career day from Jawon Hamilton; a day good for 81 rushing yards and a timely fourth quarter touchdown.
“I told McKenzie before the play – I’ve got you, I’ve got you,” said Hamilton about the game-sealing score.
There was no looking back after the touchdown. UCF’s defense pinned their ears back and the offense went into clock-killing mode to ride the fourth quarter out, facing no real opposition in locking down the benchmark victory for the Frost Era.
The Knights now sit a game behind Temple in the AAC East standings, still holding on for an improbable chance at the title, but progressing faster than most would have expected from a team in recovery. Going from zero-to-sixty in record time, this is the first time a UCF head coach has brought a team to a bowl game in his first season calling the shots.
“[It’s a] big time accomplishment for them and I look forward to coaching them, maybe three more times now.”