For UCF fans, season's in the bag

Will UCF go winless?

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  • | 1:50 p.m. November 13, 2015
Photo by: Isaac Babcock - UCF Knights fans have started donning paper bags at games as the Knights' losing streak has extended into double digits.
Photo by: Isaac Babcock - UCF Knights fans have started donning paper bags at games as the Knights' losing streak has extended into double digits.
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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Three times in their loss to Tulsa, the UCF Knights pulled within striking distance of the lead. At one point, they scored 17 unanswered points to erase what looked like a mounting blowout. But every time they got close, they faltered, letting the Golden Hurricane inch away. In the end, the Knights walked off the field in Tulsa (5-4, 2-3) with their 10th straight loss, by a score of 45-30. Now they stare down a two-game homestand to end the season, with statisticians predicting that by the end they will have lost every game in 2015.

But there were glimmers of hope in their loss. Down 24-3 as they headed into the locker room at halftime, the Knights (0-10, 0-6) looked to be in the middle of conceding their third-straight history-making rout, but when they came back out after halftime, something happened that hasn’t happened all season: they fought their way out of it.

By the end of the third quarter, the Knights had scored 17 points on two touchdowns bookending a field goal; the first time they’ve scored three times unanswered all season. That wild run, including shutting out one of the country’s top 10 offenses in the process, was the most successful quarter, on defense and offense, the Knights have experienced all season. They followed up their three unanswered scores with a fourth after letting Tulsa back onto the scoreboard.

At that point in the game, with just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Knights were only down 31-23. And on the ensuing Tulsa drive, the Knights seemed to have all the momentum, when they forced a punt on the first series to get the ball back almost immediately. Then everything fell apart.

“We had a chance, eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter,” UCF interim head coach Danny Barrett told after the game. “That's as close as we've been all year, especially on the road.”

When Blake Tiralosi fumbled the punt and gave the ball right back to Tulsa, it took the Hurricane just three plays to span 44 yards to the end zone. Then, after a long UCF drive, as the Knights seemed poised to answer with a touchdown of their own, threatening deep in Tulsa territory, Justin Holman launched a pass that landed in Tulsa safety Michael Mudoh’s hands, and he raced 86 yards into UCF’s end zone. Just like that, Tulsa had taken a one-score back-and-forth battle and blown it open into a 45-23 slaughter.

The Knights would score once more, but time had run out for them to make up for devastating mistakes. In the game the Knights threw two interceptions and fumbled twice, accounting for the drives that gave Tulsa 17 of their points — more than the margin of victory in the end.

The Knights, after being in last place for yards per game on offense for most of the season, gained 412 in the game — far more than their previous high water mark in 2015. With the offensive power surge, the Knights are now second to last in the nation, with 278.6 yards per game, leapfrogging Boston College.

When the Knights turned bold on offense, it paid off. They converted two of three fourth down attempts, one of which led to a field goal. Knights quarterback Justin Holman, who ran for 24 yards in the game, threw for 293 — a season high by any UCF quarterback — with two pass plays making it to the end zone. In total the Knights passed for 303 yards — the second most they’ve gained all season. Tre’Quan Smith, who led the Knights in receptions with 131 yards, threw in a highlight reel catch while being flipped upside down by a Tulsa defender who would be called for pass interference on the play.

But while the offense surged, the defense collapsed. In a reversal compared to most of the season, UCF gave up 425 yards to Tulsa. And when Tulsa got rolling, the Knights could only get out of the way; the Hurricane’s four fastest touchdown drives took a cumulative 3:30 to span the field. Tulsa running back Ramadi Warren, who was handed the ball over and over again en route to 168 yards on the ground (more than the Knights accumulated combined), was seemingly unstoppable, finding the end zone three times.

The Knights will have a bye week to process what glimmers of hope they found in their 10th loss of the season. With USF surging in conference play, the Knights’ best shot at breaking up a winless season may be against East Carolina (4-6, 2-4), who they face next Thursday.


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