Knights win first bowl ever, defeat Bulldogs 10-6 in Liberty Bowl
Published: Sunday, January 2, 2011
Updated: Sunday, January 2, 2011 20:01
As rare it is to see a 300-pound defensive linemen crying, it wasn't too rare of a sight in Memphis last Friday.
"I was crying and smiling all at the same time, saying thank you to all of the coaches," said senior defensive tackle Wes Tunuufi Sauvao after the Knights' 10-6 win over Georgia in the Liberty Bowl. "They said, ‘No, thank you.' And that made me cry even more. It was my last time on the field, it was a bittersweet moment for me."
The No. 25 Knights took home their first bowl victory in school history over the Bulldogs in front of a crowd of more than 51,000.
Georgia started the game off strong, driving 95 yards and scoring first. Despite the Bulldogs gaining positive yards on every play that drive, the Knights held them to a field goal.
Freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey struggled early on, completing only 2 of 7 passes and throwing an interception in the first quarter. He was drilled by Georgia defenders early in the first half and hobbled off the field.
The Knights' offensive struggles continued in the second quarter when Godfrey threw another interception, this time in the red zone.
"It was a freshman mistake," Godfrey said.
Godfrey, who had a rough first half after being banged up by the Georgia defense, kept playing. The Conference USA Freshman of the Year appeared to injure his ankle badly on an option play early in the first quarter.
"Jeff messed his ankle up, but kept playing," said senior wide receiver Brian Watters. "He wanted to win so bad, though."
UCF had a momentum shift right before halftime thanks to a Josh Linam interception, putting the Knights into Georgia territory.
"I was just thinking: just catch it and not fumble it so coach wouldn't get mad," said the junior linebacker in reference to his first career interception.
Nick Cattoi finished the drive with a field goal to tie the game going into the half at 3-3.
Sophomore running back Latavius Murray seemed to be UCF's only offensive bright spot in the first half, averaging 5.8 yards per carry on 10 attempts.
Godfrey, despite playing on virtually one leg, finally seemed to have found his rhythm in the 4th quarter. The Knights put together an impressive 65-yard drive capped by a 10-yard Murray touchdown run to take a 10-6 lead with 9 minutes left in the game.
Murray finished the game averaging 5.8 yards per carry with 104 rushing yards, the game's lone touchdown, and the 2010 Liberty Bowl MVP award.
"It was a big relief because we had been running the ball early in the game and wanted to punch one in," Murray said. "I was running with a 40-yard attitude, and that's what we were coached to do."
Senior defense end Bruce Miller recorded 1.5 sacks in the game, and finished with 36 in his career. Miller and the rest of the defense held the Bulldogs to just six points and 280 total yards.
"There's not a better way to leave this field and program as a senior," Miller said. "I couldn't ask for anything more."
Cornerback Josh Robinson and the Knights' secondary held Georgia star wide receiver A.J. Green scoreless with 8 catches and 77 yards. Green, who is ranked by Mel Kiper as a top-5 NFL draft prospect, entered the bowl averaging nearly 100 yards per game with 9 touchdowns throughout eight games.
"It wasn't just me trying to contain [Green]," Robinson said. "I had help with my safeties and everyone else. It was a challenge."
This is the second time ever that UCF has defeated an SEC opponent, and the first time in Liberty Bowl history where a C-USA opponent has defeated an SEC team. O'Leary is now 1-3 in bowl games at UCF, and has a 4-5 career record in bowl games dating back to his time at Georgia Tech.
"It was a great win for Conference USA, and a great win for our program," O'Leary said. "We played a great BCS program and I'm just happy for the players and for the seniors."
UCF capped off their greatest football season in school history with a season-high 11 wins. The Knights finished the year with the most wins out of any school in Florida.
"This first season has gone better than I pictured it," Godfrey said. "It's great to win the conference championship and the bowl game for the program, the players, the coaches and the fans. It feels great to be a part of that."