After back-to-back American Athletic Conference championships, UCF’s seventh loss of the season was a dagger to its hopes of making it three consecutive as it became ineligible for a bowl appearance.
The Knights’ (0-7, 0-3 in AAC) chances looked hopeful going into halftime, trailing 14-13, but they couldn’t contain the undefeated Temple Owls (6-0, 3-0 in AAC) in a tough road test Saturday night as they lost 30-16.
Junior quarterback Justin Holman’s passing looked hampered by the previous injury to his throwing hand. He said Monday that he had lost a little zip and was still rehabbing the injury. He finished the game completing just 10 of 31 passes for 67 yards and two interceptions with passes regularly being thrown behind receivers.
Junior cornerback Shaquill Griffin’s 81-yard pick-six with 7:34 remaining in the second quarter pumped a spark into the Knights. It was the UCF defense’s first interception of the season.
“The things that we had been lacking is contact speed and effort, and I feel like everybody came out and [did better],” Griffin said in a press release. “We were more hungry for the ball this week.”
Graduate student T.J. Mutcherson got involved in the spark during action on special teams by recovering two muffed punt returns.
“I thought the turning point in the game was when we got those turnovers down in deep,” head coach George O’Leary said in the release. “We played better in some situations, but not god enough.”
The first recovery gave the Knights a new drive from 20 yards out, but the offense failed to convert and settled for a 27-yard field goal by redshirt freshman kicker Matthew Wright.
The kicker leads the Knights in scoring with 35 points and has made eight of nine field goal tries this season, including a career-best 48-yard attempt in the first quarter.
The second drive ended with a punt. The Owls’ Sean Chandler, who had dropped a previous try, took it 65 yards on the punt return. They capped it with a 22-yard touchdown run and two-point conversion to go ahead 22-16.
“When you have opportunities, you’ve got to put the ball in the end zone and we didn’t do that,” O’Leary said in the release.
The Knights' spark had faded to Temple’s potent run game. Owls’ running back Jahad Thomas ran around almost every player on the Knights' defense as he finished with 199 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries.
UCF’s last-ranked run game in the FBS fell flat in another game, compiling just 67 yards on 29 carries. The Knights averaged just 51.2 rushing yards per game through six games.
The Knights will play their homecoming game Oct. 24 at noon against No. 24 Houston (6-0, 3-0 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.