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Sunday, September 24, 2023


Young squad falls 7-yards short at UCF

UCF junior running back Storm Johnson kept UH defenders at an arm’s length away for most of the evening, rushing for 127 yards.  |  Samantha Henry/Central Florida Future

UCF junior running back Storm Johnson kept UH defenders at an arm’s length for most of the evening, rushing for 127 yards. | Samantha Henry/Central Florida Future

Though the Cougars lost both the game and the control of their own destiny for an appearance in the upcoming Bowl Championship Series, the team gained several passengers on its 2014 bandwagon.

UH (7-2, 4-1) proved that it could be set up for a bright future, even if the young squad is not ready to win big games in tough venues, during a 19-14 loss to conference foe UCF (7-1, 4-0) at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, Fla. The team could change current fan reactions by defeating Louisville on the road on Saturday.

As in the Cougars’ first loss of the season, the game was decided

by their final offensive possession when UH failed to reach the end zone.

With a freshman starting quarterback and sophomores as its leading running back and receiver, UH should expect some growing pains this season as the team grows together and learns to win against tough opponents.

Closing games

Responding in the second half with the game on the line hasn’t been a problem — UH trailed after the break against Memphis and Temple and fended off second-half rallies from Rice and UTSA with critical plays from all three phases of the team.

However, finishing off the two most talented teams UH has faced, BYU and UCF, has been an issue.

“They are a beatable team, and we just didn’t execute the way that we planned,” said junior linebacker Derrick Mathews. “Like coach says, there is no such thing as a moral victory, so we’re not going to be happy that we came close to beating a ranked team.”

The young squad is improving in late-game situations.

UH had a chance to defeat BYU with a drive to take the lead, but turned the ball over on the first play.

Against UCF in the same situation, UH drove 60 yards and gave itself four chances from inside the opposing 10-yard line. The Cougars came seven yards short when freshman quarterback John O’Korn’s pass fell incomplete.

Sluggish start hurts chances

But UH’s inability to score on its final drive didn’t cause the loss, said head coach Tony Levine. Dropped passes, negative rushing plays on early downs and an overall lack of offensive rhythm to start the game hurt the Cougars’ chances, too.

“A lot of the focus is on the last one or two plays of the game, but while it is a game of inches, it never comes down to one play,” Levine said. “There were plays and opportunities that we had in the first half that could have changed the outcome of the game.”

The offense struggled early, getting shut out in the first half, but the squad responded when given an opportunity by its defense and special-team units. After redshirt defensive lineman BJ Singleton blocked junior kicker Shawn Moffitt’s 50-yard field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter, O’Korn connected with junior receiver Wayne Beadle for a 12-yard touchdown on the following drive. UCF led 19-14.

The defense earned a 3-and-out to give the offense another opportunity, but the Cougars couldn’t capitalize.

“It was an experience for them, but I can’t say (we lost) because they’re young. We played a great team and they played very well, and we couldn’t finish,” Mathews said.

Bright future

The Cougars are set up to make a run at conference titles the next two years.

They have a talented quarterback who could lead them to several victories for the next three years, most of its skill position players in the backfield and on the outside will return and the team won’t lose many starting defenders to graduation after this season.

But for football players and coaches, who always talk about taking the season one game at a time, the future is a theoretical concept.

The Cougars want to win a conference title now, even if it’s a year before their time. Winning an American Athletic Conference title won’t happen as long as UCF continues to win, but UH can put building blocks in place for next season by defeating Louisville on the road.

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