Week 1 of the 2015 College Football season is in the books and everything has changed for UCF.
The Knights came into their season opener on Thursday night at the Bounce House with high hopes and their sights set on a third straight American Athletic Conference Championship. Now they can only think about survival.
UCF fell to the Florida International University Panthers 15-14 on Thursday night and things will only get more difficult from here for this team.
The Knights travel out west to Stanford next weekend before coming home for what should be an easy win over Furman before heading up to Columbia, South Carolina to take on Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks. After what we all witnessed on Thursday night, you have to be worried about a 1-3 start for UCF this season.
Then it might be time to start questioning the rest of their AAC schedule because the rest of the conference did pretty well for the most part.
Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, USF and Navy all blew out their week one patsies and Temple shocked Penn State. ECU, Tulsa and UConn all also opened their seasons with victories. The only losses in the conference outside of UCF’s came against Power-5 opponents with SMU falling to Baylor and Tulane getting beat up by Duke. UCF lost to FIU…. F-I-U!
How could this have happened?
The typical excuses aren’t available for this debacle. There was a raucous home crowd at BrightHouse Network Stadium, the Knights didn’t turn the ball over and second year quarterback Justin Holman looked much improved completing 23 of 34 passes for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The lapses came from the running game and the defense.
UCF could only scrape together 46 yards on the ground keeping their total yards below 300. Defensively the Knights looked like Swiss cheese at times giving up 391 total yards to the Panthers, 131 of which came from FIU’s rushing attack.
That being the case, I can’t bring myself to blame the defense. As easily as FIU seemed to move the ball at times, the Knights still held them to just 15 points which should have been more than enough for a home win to begin the season.
Whether it be inexperience at wide out, inexperience on the offensive line or simply inexperience from the new offensive coordinator, Brent Key, it was the offense that sputtered and allowed FIU to climb back into this ballgame.
Before halftime the Knights took a 14-3 lead over the Panthers. They seemed to be moving the ball with ease and primed for a blow out. FIU made adjustments at halftime and UCF wasn’t able to adjust to those adjustments. That I think has to fall on the coaching staff.
I couldn’t tell you if it was Coach O’Leary, Coach Key or somebody else who decided to go conservative at the end of the night, but it was the death knell for the Knights.
According to a source close to the program, Holman had been given the keys to the offense during that final UCF drive, but was stripped of that responsibility as soon as the Knights found themselves inside the 25-yard-line. On that drive Holman was 5-6 passing and ran for a first down on a 3rd and 4 that also drew a personal foul penalty on FIU who looked completely lost at the time.
Then somebody put the breaks on.
Once in field goal range UCF called three straight rushing plays to Will Stanback that combined for a 2-yard loss and were followed by a false start penalty backing the Knights up even further. Then of course came the blocked field goal attempt ending all hope of a comeback.
UCF fans went home disappointed and Coach O’Leary returned to the drawing board.
My source also tells me that a “Wild Knight” formation has been in the works, and was used once in the season opener when Nick Patti rushed for a 2-yard gain. Maybe this can help get the running game going, but if that’s the case why only run it once against FIU? I know you don’t want to tip your hand too much with a Power-5 opponent next up on the schedule, but when you’re on the verge of losing to what was supposed to be a lesser team you should probably pull out all of the stops.
Of course there is no excuse for a loss like this at this point in UCF Football’s history, but the loss is also not a reason to put Brent Key, George O’Leary or anybody else on the hot seat. It is also not a reason to slam on the panic button and throw away all hopes in 2015.
Stanford was inept offensively against Northwestern in their season opening loss and South Carolina still has a long way to go even though they managed to escape Charlotte with a win. Both of these teams are beatable, but it’s going to take a lot of growth from a very young UCF squad and quickly.
We can all agree that UCF’s loss at UConn in 2014 was the aberration of the season…that debacle came late in the season. Here’s hoping that FIU is just another aberration and we’ll see a far different Knights team next Saturday night out West.
We’ll worry about the AAC schedule when we get to it…
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