On Nov. 18, 1982, UCF interim head coach Danny Barrett walked off of Carson Field at Nippert Stadium for the final time as a Cincinnati Bearcat after a 20-10 victory over Miami University (Ohio).
Almost 33 years later, Barrett is looking for a few firsts as he seeks his first win as a college head coach and the Knights’ first win of the season as they play Cincinnati (4-3, 1-2 American Athletic Conference) Saturday at noon for the first time in program history.
“I was talking to Cedric [Thompson] and I said, ‘Man, I want this. I think this is as bad as I ever wanted to win for someone,’” senior linebacker Domenic Spencer said. “Coach Barrett gave us a speech about when he was in Cincinnati. He wants this win as bad as we want it, so we have to win for coach O’Leary and for coach Barrett.”
The Knights (0-8, 0-4 AAC) have had a whirlwind of a weekend after suffering their worst home loss in program history Saturday against Houston, 12-year head coach George O’Leary retiring and Barrett becoming the team’s interim head coach for the remaining four games of the season.
But the team plans to leave the distractions behind and give full attention to the task at hand: beating the Bearcats.
“We’re here to play football right now. We’ve got to focus on Cincinnati and we’ve got to execute the game plan and go out there and practice every day with our all-out effort,” redshirt senior H-back Joseph Puopolo said.
That task is going to be a tough one, though. Cincinnati is among tops in the FBS in multiple categories, including tied for sixth in fourth down conversions, No. 7 in total offense with 555.6 yards per game and No. 8 in passing offense with 353.7 yards per game.
The Knights are going into their ninth consecutive week without a bye. One of the first things Barrett did for the team was give them Monday off, which players say helped.
“We’re thankful for it, got our legs back underneath us [and] ready to roll now going to Cincinnati,” Spencer said.
UCF has severely struggled this season, giving up an average 417.6 yards while putting up just 257.6 yards per game – 127 out of 127 in the FBS.
But the lack of leadership and seniors and influx of injuries have heavily contributed to the team’s worst season in over a decade.
“Our players understand why we’re in the position that we’re in. We have not played at the level at which we could play. It’s evident,” Barrett said. “We’re leading games and then for whatever reason, we falter at the end, so we’ve got to find a way to finish.
“You look at that team of 2013, offensively at least, everybody but Joey Grant had an opportunity to go play, get to a camp in the NFL. That says a lot compared to where we are today. We’re going to bounce back. This program is going to thrive again. Hopefully it starts this week.”
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JarrodHeil or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.