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Thursday, September 21, 2023


Knights declaw Coogs

ORLANDO, Fla. – The No. 24 Cougars found themselves in a familiar position entering Saturday’s game against Central Florida. ‘

As they did when they faced UTEP, the Cougars were heading into an opponent’s stadium on homecoming weekend with a top-15 ranking. They would also face a team that was coming off a blowout loss at Texas.

At the end of Saturday’s 37-32 loss to the Knights, UH players carried the same feelings they had on their flight back from El Paso.

UH (8-2, 4-2 Conference USA) no longer controls its own destiny in the C-USA West Division race. To earn a spot in the C-USA title game, the Cougars must win their remaining two games and hope SMU (6-4, 5-1 C-USA) suffers one more setback.’

At the beginning of the year, head coach Kevin Sumlin said his team’s goals started with winning the C-USA West. UH’s inability to respond to the Knights’ physical game plan may have put that accomplishment out of reach.

‘They ‘hellip; turned it into a physical game,’ Sumlin said. ‘I don’t think we matched it consistently.’

That rough style of play resulted in a 39:30 to 20:30 time-of-possession advantage for the Knights. UCF had drives that lasted 8:27, 5:24 and 5:44, keeping the potent UH offense off the field while putting an already tired defense in vulnerable positions.

Receiver Tyron Carrier believes the offense, which committed three turnovers, was as much to blame for the loss as the defense.

‘Turnovers are the biggest thing for offense,’ Carrier said. ‘I think the defense has played great the last couple of games, and when they give us the ball, we have to score.’

The Cougars had opportunities to force the Knights into a different game plan, but went into halftime nursing a 17-10 lead after turning the ball over twice deep in UCF territory.’

‘When you’ve got a team down, you’ve got to keep jumping on them,’ linebacker Marcus McGraw said. ‘We’ve just got to be able to put teams away when we get the chance.’

After receiving the opening kickoff of the second-half, UH’s offense went three-and-out and punted.’

Then the Knights continued to use a run-heavy approach and marched 51 yards in eight plays. Brynn Harvey’s 1-yard rushing touchdown pulled the Knights within 17-16 with 8:51 left in the third quarter.

L.J. Castile temporarily preserved the 1-point lead by blocking the ensuing extra point, but the Cougars’ troubles were only beginning.

UH went three-and-out and punted again on its next drive, allowing the Knights to take a 23-17 lead shortly after on Harvey’s 41-yard touchdown run.

Quarterback Case Keenum believes the Knights’ defensive line and linebackers were huge factors in the offense’s unproductive second half.

‘They’re really good up front,’ Keenum said. ‘They did a good job of covering down field and putting pressure on me, and we could never get it going.’

UH later cut its deficit to 23-20 on Matt Hogan’s 21-yard field goal.

But on the Knights’ next possession, the Cougars’ defense allowed UCF to convert three third downs, the last of which extended the Knights’ lead to 30-20 as quarterback Brett Hodges hurled a 24-yard touchdown pass to Quincy McDuffie.

Keenum followed by throwing a pick to Justin Boddie on UH’s next possession. One play later, the Knights extended their advantage to 37-20 on Harvey’s 7-yard touchdown run.’

After that score, UH was too far behind to create more late-game magic. Now, they must focus on finishing the season strong.’

Guard Chris Thompson said today’s film session will reveal what he and the rest of the team already knows: the Knights gave a better effort and made plays when they had to.

‘We pride ourselves on being the team that, when we turn on the film on Monday, clearly played harder than the other team,’ Thompson said. ‘They just flat outplayed us.’

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