TAMPA, Fla. – UCF (6-6, 4-4) was outgunned once again in the War on I4, laying down their defenses completely in a 48-31 shellacking at the hands of the explosive USF (10-2, 7-1) offense.
“I don’t want anybody to hang their head. This is a team that has been through a lot, I’m so proud of them, I’m so happy for them,” consoled UCF Head Coach Scott Frost with the season’s bigger picture in mind.
There were glimmers of hope for the recently stagnant UCFast system – leaping out to an early 7-0 lead on the game’s first series, pulling off an unexpected 72-yard tick play touchdown from Tristan Payton to Tre’Quan Smith, almost recovering a sneaky onside kick – but it was clear all game that this was a battle waged between two units firing in different dimensions this season.
USF’s lethal combination of rushing ammunition blew the game wide open in waves of quick-strike scores, recording rushing touchdowns of 24, 43, 56 and 62 yards.
Quarterback Quinton Flowers teamed up with his backfield partner Marlon Mack to combine for 307 yards and four touchdowns, dominating to the tune of 7.7 yards per carry. Mack alone accounted for 155 yards and two scored on 20 carries, putting the elite running back over 1,000 years for his third consecutive season.
Even with the outstanding play from Mack, not enough can be said about Quinton Flowers’ contributions; the USF offense runs through him. Flowers carried the ball as many times as Mack did, broke the 62 yard score, completed 17-of-26 passes for 152 yards, had no turnovers and even completed a pass to himself.
McKenzie Milton had a completely different day under center.
He was hit continuously and had to play a serious game of keep-away from the Bulls’ pass rush, finding turf three times under USF pressure. The Bulls’ three sacks totaled a loss of -22 yards for UCF, and Milton was coerced into two interceptions – even though he did rack up 225 yards on 42 pass attempts.
With no real running game to back him up, Milton received the brunt of the physical USF defense. His backs combined to give him 27 yards. Very few programs can win games with 27 rushing yards, especially when piloted by a true freshman quarterback.
“They get a first down and somebody goes sixty [yards]. We get a first down and we have to get more first downs. It’s hard to maintain a drive for fifteen plays and execute for all those plays down the field. We’ll have a day when guys are taking it to the house from sixty and those sort of things,” said Frost about the offensive production today.
UCF was outflanked, outmanned and out planned in this years’ installment of the War on I4. Their normally stout defense surrendered 503 yards and more points than they have since a loss at The Big House in the second week of 2016. The offensive struggles continued, and there were numerous blown opportunities.
At 6-6, though, progress has definitely still been made.
“I’m proud of our team,” said linebacker Shaqem Griffin. “We came together, we could have been out there arguing like last year, but we didn’t. We came together and we kept fighting.”
UCF will move on from the first sanctioned battle in this now-trophied rivalry with a bowl game, a consolation prize that seemed impossible just twelve short months ago. To Frost, who has made it clear that this season was not about wins or losses in his mind, today’s loss was just a launching pad.
“Someday we’ll have the script flipped and we’ll be the good team and teams are going to need breaks against us. Right now we needed to make those things happen and they went the wrong way.”