UCF football’s woes continued Saturday as the team faltered to No. 21 Houston, 59-10, in its Homecoming game.
Through the midway point in the second quarter, the Knights (0-8, 0-4 American Athletic Conference), showed signs of improvement and resilience, taking a 10-7 lead over the nation’s No. 6-ranked offense in the FBS. It was the Knights’ largest margin of defeat all season.
But the Cougars (7-0, 4-0 AAC) came alive as they put up 52 unanswered points, including 24 points in a three-minute, 17-second spurt that spanned from the end of the second quarter to the beginning of the third.
“That was a tale of two halves as far as the game-plan half and not fulfilling the game plan in the second half,” head coach George O’Leary said. “[We have] a lot of growing up to do regarding what it takes to win games.
“I think there’s a competency level as far as probably some kids out there that aren’t ready yet and a strength level.”
Justin Holman began the game 3-for-3 with 55 yards, including a 44-yard completion to redshirt freshman wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith on second play of game. The third pass, to Cam Stewart, resulted in a fumble 15 yards outside of the end zone and Houston’s Brandon Wilson recovered the ball and ran it back 85 yards to score 1:14 into the game.
Holman finished the game 14-for-27 with 183 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. He was replaced by redshirt freshman Tyler Harris with 1:52 remaining in the third quarter. Harris completed 0 of 2 passes on two separate drives.
Smith led the Knights in receiving with 89 yards on seven receptions.
Freshman Tristan Payton caught the first touchdown reception of his career, which was a 46-yard connection, tying the game 7-7.
Holman’s first interception resulted in a Cougars’ 61-yard scoring drive. Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. gained the sole lead in the nation with his 15th rushing touchdown of the season as the Cougars extended the score to 21-10.
His second interception was ran back 49 yards and set Houston up for a 34-yard field goal to end the first half.
“I thought [the interceptions] were bad decisions; one was underthrown before the half … and then the other ones were just bad throws,” O’Leary said. “You just can’t turn the ball over like that, especially in the field position we turned it over. We don’t have enough playmakers on defense right now to make those plays.”
Going into the game, Ward Jr. led all quarterbacks in the FBS in rushing yards. He finished the day completing 16 of 23 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown and running for 46 yards and a score on 10 attempts.
Houston, which averaged 554.7 yards and 45.7 points per game going into Saturday’s matchup, finished the day with 600 yards of total offense. UCF’s last-ranked offense slightly eclipsed its average of 254.4 yards by compiling 280 total.
Houston's Kenneth Farrow picked up 167 of those yards on 13 rushes and found the end zone three times.
“They’re really good at what they do; I’ll give them that. But we beat ourselves,” said redshirt junior defensive lineman Luke Adams, who recorded his first sack of his UCF career during the loss. “We can’t make that many mistakes in a game and expect to win.
“We’ve got to learn how to keep our morale up and learn how to face tough situations.”
Junior running back Dontravious Wilson was back for the Knights. He picked up 72 yards on 19 attempts, including the team’s longest rush of the season: a 24-yard run on his first carry since the first half of the home opener.
UCF is back on the road Oct. 31 when it takes on Cincinnati (3-3, 0-2 AAC) at noon.
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JarrodHeil or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.