ORLANDO – No matter how you slice it, this one was just ugly. UCF fell 31-13 to the Arkansas State Red Wolves in a cacophony of misery on all three phases of play.
It was UCFrustration from the onset; consider the drive chart from the first quarter.
Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Fumble. The pattern didn’t vary much over three more excruciating quarters of football. UCF would punt ten times by the end of regulation.
All told? The Knights produced 223 yards of offense, suffered five three-and-outs, and left their defense on the field for just about 32 minutes. Punter Caleb Houston posted career numbers with 440 total punt yards.
To call the game a sloppy performance seems like a sweeping generalization, but the Frost and company shot themselves in the foot with repetition that would have made a scratched record proud. UCF totaled penalties and penalty yards. Arkansas State was gifted three fumbles, a turnover on downs, and three almost-interceptions from the home team – not a handicap that a stagnant Knights’ offense had any chance of overcoming.
Nothing was working on offense, period. It started with the offensive line’s deep struggles against the ferocious Red Wolves’ pass rush, as Milton was flushed out of the pocket with ease and forced to fight for his life; let alone a clear chance to pass as he was sacked four times and pressured for the entirety of the evening.
“It’s tough right now to play quarterback,” explained Head Coach Scott Frost. “We have a couple of guys hurt on the o-line, we’re young on the o-line, when McKenzie is in there he’s running for his life. Justin is bigger, has a better arm and is not quite as quick and when he’s in there he’s under pressure too.”
McKenzie was held to just 175 yards and 22 completions on 39 total attempts, adding 31 yards on the ground when possible. The gameflow and play calling would saddle the true freshman with just a 4.48 yard per attempt average.
The call for Justin Holman to see action hit a crescendo at the end of the third quarter, erupting in cavernous applause when the senior hit the field in place of McKenzie Milton before the final frame. It was the moment fans had been calling for, the messiah to their bowl game dreams.
Justin immediately threw an interception.
Holman was rushed into the game and exposed the dark undercurrent of UCF’s struggles this season; it isn’t just the quarterback. The entire offensive unit was off, and he would finish the game with a stat-line of 4-9 for 36 yards.
UCF’s normally staunch defense fell victim to the Cure Bowl variety of the yips, holding Arkansas State honest for the bulk of the game but blowing the coverage on long gains of 67 and 75 yards. If the occasional big play wasn’t what broke them, the suffocating field position did the trick.
Retrospective of the “First Frost”
UCF’s 31-13 loss to Arkansas State in the second AutoNation Cure Bowl defeat marks the end of the First Frost in Orlando. It has been a teasing season of promise, defined by the youth and passion that brings about both rapid change and heartbreaking missteps.
“I’m proud of our team and our guys,” reiterated Frost when all was said and done. “Nobody hates losing more than me, except maybe Rucker. What this team has accomplished – I’m proud of them, I’m happy for them. I’m hungry to accomplish more.”
“For the young guys – I told them they’d better be ready to get back to work.”
It is on to the next chapter for this resurging program, immediately on to building off the progress an 0-12 team made in 2016. With a full, true offseason ahead, Frost will continue to build UCFootball into the powerhouse he has promised since day one – but will need to steel himself for the wild west of recruiting that recent coaching hires in the state of Florida have brought about.
Photo Credit: Matthew McGuffee