The Knights were plagued by an injury for the third consecutive game as leading receiver, punt and kick returner Jordan Akins went down after fielding the opening kickoff.
The Knights (0-3, 0-0 in AAC) fell to Furman University (1-2, 0-0 in Southern Conference) 16-15 on Saturday night, losing their first game to an FCS opponent since joining the FBS in 1996. They are now 20-1 against FCS teams since then.
The last time UCF started 0-3 was in 2004, which was George O’Leary’s first season as the head coach. That squad finished 0-11.
“Every loss hurts. It’s just how you take it in,” linebacker Chequan Burkett said. “Our mindset as a UCF team, as a unit, together, we’re just going to take it as an improvement and listen.”
After losing Justin Holman to a hand injury against Stanford, Bo Schneider became the first true freshman to start under center since Jeff Godfrey on Sept. 18, 2010. Godfrey led the team to a 24-10 victory at Buffalo, but Schneider wasn’t as productive and was replaced by Tyler Harris in the second half.
The two quarterbacks combined for just 98 yards and three interceptions on 14-for-28 passing.
“The quarterback getting hurt, the kids aren’t ready to play yet,” O’Leary said. “[Schneider] seemed to be throwing into coverage, which you don’t want.”
The back-and-forth battle with the Paladins was dominated by turnovers.
Harris threw for two interceptions, Schneider for one and redshirt freshman C.J. Jones fumbled on the first play of a potential game-winning drive with 3:44 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“Win or lose, you do it together as a team and, obviously, no one is as disappointed as I am,” O’Leary said. “You just can’t turn the ball over four times.”
The Knights ran off to an early 12-0 lead after Nick Patti, who led the team with 58 rushing yards on 14 attempts, scored the second rushing touchdown of his career with 1:45 left in the first quarter.
“[Running] was a big part of the game plan,” Patti said. “[But] any time we got on a roll, we had a flat tire here or there. We’ve got to do a better job at fixing those flat tires quicker.”
On the following kickoff, redshirt senior Cedric Thompson forced a fumble, leading to a Matthew Wright field goal. Burkett capped the run with the team’s first sack and safety of the season.
After a 29-yard field goal by Wright ended the third quarter, giving the Knights a 15-13 lead, Furman kicker Jon Croft Hollingsworth reciprocated with a 55-yard field goal – the longest recorded in Bright House Networks Stadium. That settled the final score at 16-15.
“The mood was like, ‘We have to step up,’ and hold them to a field goal and put it in the hands of our offense. And, if our numbers are called back out, we would just have to stop them again,” Burkett said.
The Knights produced 171 rushing yards, 86 more than the two previous games combined.
The Knights will start a two-game road trip as they play SEC-opponent South Carolina (1-2, 0-1 in SEC) Saturday, Sept. 26 at noon.
Victor Ng is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future.