UCF didn’t have a say in the highly anticipated and highly publicized ‘Civil Conflict’ rivalry, but it didn’t matter much after the final whistle blew because UConn took the win and the trophy back to Connecticut.
Hopes for the season’s first win were hampered by missed plays and turnovers as the Knights (0-6, 0-2 in AAC) lost, 40-13, to UConn (3-3, 1-1 in AAC) Saturday.
“We can’t let one mistake throw us in kind of a tiff. We’ve got to build off of things and keep the momentum going and help the defense out a little bit,” said wide receiver Nick Patti, who caught his first career touchdown reception during UCF’s final drive of the game. “You stack a couple losses on top of each other and it’ll get tougher and tougher.”
Special teams’ errors, key dropped passes and the defense’s inability to contain UConn’s passing and rushing game ultimately put the nail in the coffin of the Knights.
“You can’t make the mistakes that we’re making and win games,” head coach George O’Leary said. “You can’t be doing that. And that ball security has caused a problem.”
Quarterback Justin Holman was back at the helm of UCF’s offense for the first time since suffering a finger injury to his throwing hand during the second game of the season. He finished the first drive by completing 8 of 10 passes for 71 yards and finished 27-for-50 with 255 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
True freshman D’erren Wilson and redshirt freshman C.J. Jones didn’t help Holman find his rhythm after missing almost four entire games as each dropped passes that would have gone for first downs and big numbers through the air.
“[Holman] would have had a really nice day, but … he had at least five or six there that were big potential plays that were dropped on him and those are what stalls drives,” O’Leary said.
Redshirt junior Hayden Jones caught a kickoff return, stepped out of the end zone and then kneeled the ball in that same end zone for an errant safety to put UConn ahead 9-3. Redshirt sophomore Chris Johnson muffed a punt return that led to the Huskies beginning and converting a drive from deep inside the red zone.
Redshirt sophomore Michael Willett became the 17th Knight to haul in a reception this season. He finished with five receptions for 65 yards.
The Knights went into the ‘Civil Conflict’ with just 247 rushing yards as a team – the least among 127 FBS teams. In comparison, 142 FBS players have run for at least 247 yards.
UCF’s last-ranked rushing game failed to find its footing for the sixth consecutive game. Redshirt freshman C.J. Jones had a career-high game with 44 yards on seven carries, but the only other Knights to touch the ball in the backfield were Willett and Holman, who combined for 17 yards.
“We know we’ve got to keep pushing. We know it’s on us, we can’t blame anybody but ourselves,” sophomore defensive lineman Jamiyus Pittman said. “We’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing when it’s time to do it.”
UConn’s offense compiled 433 total yards and UCF’s staggered in at 315 after a 65-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown during its final possession. Huskies’ quarterback Bryant Shirreffs finished 16-for-22 with 256 yards, one passing and one rushing touchdown.
“[It’s a] disappointing game from a standpoint of improving. I didn’t see us improving on defense,” O’Leary said. “We’re too soft in tackling and I think [there’s] too much coverage mistakes.
“They’re young, but they’re no longer young once they’ve been out there playing [six games].”
UCF is back on the road Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m. taking on Temple (5-0, 2-0 in AAC).
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JarrodHeil or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.