UCF traveled to South Carolina on Saturday looking to knock off a Southeastern Conference opponent and get its season back on track.
In the first half, it looked hopeful. But the Knights took their foot off the gas in the third and fourth quarters, blowing a first-half lead for the third time this season.
UCF (0-4, 0-0 in AAC) held a 14-8 lead over South Carolina (2-2, 0-2 in SEC) at halftime but gave up 26 unanswered points in route to a 31-14 loss. The Knights are now 2-17 against SEC opponents.
“We caused some of our own self-inflicted wounds. That’s why you lose games,” head coach George O’Leary said in a press release. “Give South Carolina credit. I thought some of their athletes were better athletes in space than we had.”
The Knights and the Gamecocks both started true freshman quarterbacks, but UCF’s Bo Schneider was out-dueled by his competitor, Lorenzo Nunez.
Schneider completed 20 of 35 passes, throwing his first career touchdown as a Knight but let two interceptions slip. The TD pass was a 30-yard score to redshirt freshman Tre’Quan Smith.
“Except for the picks, I thought [he] handled the game better,” O’Leary said in the release.
Smith led the Knights through the air with 82 yards on five receptions. True freshman Tristan Payton caught five passes for 42 yards and returned two kickoffs for 48 yards.
Knights’ running back Taj McGowan was tackled in his own end zone to start the second quarter, resulting in a safety and a 5-0 Gamecocks’ lead.
After a dropped punt by South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper on his own 1-yard line, Nick Patti rushed for his second touchdown of the season, giving UCF a 7-5 advantage.
On the Knights’ next drive, Schneider threw 5-for-5 as he led a 93-yard drive to the end zone, giving them a 14-5 cushion.
“I did see some growth offensively out there,” O’Leary said in the release. “I thought we did some better things this week compared to last week.”
The Gamecocks failed on a two-point conversion following their third touchdown late in the third quarter, giving the Knights a sliver of hope. That hope was erased when Schneider took the Knights to the South Carolina 36-yard line but failed to convert on fourth and 6.
The Knights defense could do nothing to stop the Gamecocks as it gave up 233 of the 400 total offensive yards in the second half. The Knights managed just 230 offensive yards.
UCF will begin American Athletic Conference play Saturday, Oct. 3 at noon when it travels to Tulane.
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JarrodHeil or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.
Victor Ng is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @_victorT24.