Knights are now faced with dilemma at quarterback
Published: Saturday, November 26, 2011
Updated: Sunday, November 27, 2011 16:11
"This is still Jeff's team."
It was a consistent message from Knights coach George O'Leary all season, even after freshman backup quarterback Blake Bortles slowly but surely began to take snaps away from sophomore quarterback Jeff Godfrey.
And sure enough, Godfrey was the starter throughout the season.
But the season is over now, and the Knights finished a disappointing 5-7 and ineligible for a bowl game.
And it was in the season's finale, a 31-14 win over the UTEP Miners, that the team looked the least like it was still Godfrey's.
As expected and has been the case recently, Bortles came in after Godfrey had a few drives with limited success but no real traction, despite completing five of six passes for 53 yards.
"Godfrey went a couple series and then I put Bortles in, giving us the best opportunity to win the game," O'Leary said afterward.
The difference in Friday's finale wasn't that Bortles saw playing time — even early playing time. The difference was that Godfrey would not see the field again in the 2011 season.
Even now, Godfrey is likely still the face of UCF football, and as the seconds ticked away in the Knights' lost season, it was a visibly unhappy face relegated to the sidelines, arms crossed.
The body language of the Miami native spoke volumes.
So how did UCF get here?
It's not as though Bortles hasn't earned the snaps he has taken. All throughout fall camp, coaches were heard praising his progress. Bortles was consistently having success leading UCF's second-team offense against its first-team defense, a defense that is among Conference USA's best.
Even so, at the time, he was no threat to Godfrey's starting role. That, after all, was practice. At the time, it seemed the Oviedo native was simply growing into the consummate backup quarterback, a thing every team would like to have.
Then, Godfrey was injured against BYU. He returned to finish the game, of course, but not before Bortles came in with his back against the wall and led a few impressive drives.
The whispers started. The former Oviedo Lion could play.
That's how it went for weeks, as Godfrey never truly looked like the same quarterback who confounded opposing defenses and led the Knights to their greatest season last year as a freshman.
At times, it seemed Godfrey was trying to force his progress as a pocket passer, something widely believed to have been encouraged by the coaches, although O'Leary denied trying to push Godfrey out of his comfort zone. Meanwhile, he was having less and less success, scrambling as teams consistently used strong attacks from the ends to contain the speedy signal-caller.
Bortles, for his part, is the prototypical pockets passer. It helps that the redshirt freshman stands tall at 6-foot-5, around half a foot taller than Godfrey.
The playbook didn't seem to suit Godfrey this season. At times, the play-calling appeared at odds with Godfrey's skill set, a point Godfrey supporters point out, and clearly played into Bortles' strengths.
Whether it was a lack of adjustments or lack of comfort, or both, UCF's star from a year ago seemed disconnected from the system offensive coordinator and quarterback's coach Charlie Taaffe was running.
The stats tell an interesting story. Godfrey threw for twice as many yards (1,898 yards) as Bortles (958 yards), but also attempted twice as many passes. The two players had similar completion rates, Godfrey completing 69 percent of his passes and Bortles completing 68.2 percent.
They both had their respective interceptions, and to be fair, Bortles had plenty of "freshman" moments, highlighting his inexperience.
The divide really finds its footing in two areas, though. Bortles consistently appeared to be the better downfield passer. Where Bortles appeared accurate throwing deep balls, Godfrey missed targets completely.
Then there were the touchdown passes.
Despite throwing half as many attempts, Bortles finished with six touchdown tosses to Godfrey's five. One of those was a memorable strike as time expired against Southern Miss, the culmination of an impressive two-minute drill ran by the freshman in a hostile environment on the road (Bortles would go on to miss an open Adam Nissley for the game-winning two-point conversion, though).
In short, there is a dilemma at the team's most important position. It's nothing new at the collegiate level, and it's nothing new to the Knights, and some would believe having two talented and equally deserving quarterbacks is a plus.