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Saturday, September 30, 2023


Good, bad and ugly: Cougars, Knights — two programs on different paths


Junior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. has been a big key to the Cougars’ success this season, guiding the offense both through the air and on the ground. | Bryce Dodds/The Cougar

The Cougars are still undefeated after beating the University of Central Florida Knights 59-10 on the road, but the game was not as easy as the score might make it seem. So let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the game.

The good: winning tendencies

What a difference a year makes. Through the first seven games of their 2014 season, Houston sat at 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the American Athletic Conference. This year, the team is 7-0 and 4-0 in conference and sits atop the AAC West.

This year, the unbeaten Cougars have not trailed any team by more than seven points, and only once in the second half, while beating teams by an average of 27 points per game.

Last year, Houston stumbled out of the gate against an eventual 4-8 University of Texas San Antonio team after being unable to find the end zone until late in the fourth quarter, with the game already out of reach.

Two weeks later, against No. 25 Brigham Young University, Houston fell behind 23-0 early before they were able to get going offensively.

Two more games later, Houston again fell behind, this time to the University of Central Florida, and had to mount a comeback attempt after trailing 17-6 late in the third quarter.

The game against Louisville has been the team’s only tightly contested game this year, entering the fourth quarter and they came up big when they needed to, taking a three-point lead with 3:09 left to play and blocking a field goal attempt to keep it.

And, despite a rough first half in Orlando, UH fell behind by a field goal for just two minutes and 11 seconds before taking over the game and avoiding falling into a trap game situation.

The bad: a…slow…start

Even though the Cougars won the game, they are still on the hook for the poor start to the game against a winless Knights squad.

UCF came into the game owning the worst offensive unit in the AAC, yet were able to move the ball against the Houston defense with ease on the opening drive.

Just two plays into the game, the Knights had moved the ball down to the Cougars’ 24 yard-line and would likely have taken an early lead had UH junior cornerback Brandon Wilson not stripped UCF receiver Shawn Moffitt and returned the fumble 85 yards for the score.

That play aside, the Knight’s 127th ranked offense shredded the Cougar defense for most of the first half, picking up 11 first downs in six drives and gobbling up yardage, including plays of 23, 44 and 46 yards.

After scoring a touchdown on their first possession in the first six games of the season, the UH offense struggled early, picking up 49 yards on 23 plays and looking like a shell of the fifth ranked unit in the country for their first four drives.

The ugly: un-Knightly breakdown

After three straight seasons with a winning record and back-to-back pieces of the AAC championship, the Knights have lost a ton of talent to both injuries and departures, going from one of the best non-power conference teams in the country to one of the worst.

Coming into the game against UH on a seven-game losing streak, UCF had nothing to lose and played the first part of the game like a team with its hair on fire.

They looked like the team many expected to see entering 2015, moving the ball on the ground and through the air with relative ease and played stingy and relentless on defense.

Then, the end of the first half came.

In the two minutes and 27 seconds before the break, the Knights threw two interceptions, gave up 17 unanswered points and lost all of the momentum they had gained.

Things didn’t get any better in the second half, as the Cougars scored 21 points in the third quarter before calling off the dogs heading into the fourth.

Meanwhile, the UCF offense picked up just 58 yards and two first downs the entire second half.
Now sitting at 0-8 at the bottom of the conference, the wheels have officially fallen of the bus for UCF.

The Knights’ collapse against the Cougars may have been the straw that finally broke the camel’s back for UCF this season.

Following the game, 12-year head coach George O’Leary was forced to retire after leading the team to five bowl wins and a 81-68 overall record during his time there.

For the Cougars and their first-year head coach Tom Herman, however, the road looks bright as they get ready to face off against the 3-4 Vanderbilt Commodores Halloween night at 7 p.m.


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