UCF at Cincinnati was a matchup fans of the American Athletic Conference had waited two years to see,as scheduling quirks prevented two of the league’s best teams from meeting on the field.
Although it finally happened, it was under different circumstances than most expected.
The Knights visit to Nippert Stadium was anticipated to be a battle for supremacy in the AAC East with major conference championship implications prior to the start of the season. Cincinnati was the overwhelming favorite to win the conference, while UCF received a smattering of votes at AAC media days to contend as UC’s main challenger in the East.
Instead, Cincinnati came into the game Saturday at 4-3 (1-2) looking up at Temple, South Florida, Connecticut and East Carolina in the AAC East standings. The Bearcats are all but out of the conference title picture, needing to win out and have Temple drop three conference games along the way to represent the East in the AAC championship game.
As for UCF, it ventured to Cincinnati with a surprising 0-8 record, and without George O’Leary as its head coach for the first time in 12 years. Let’s just say it wasn’t a pleasant homecoming for interim head coach Danny Barrett, a University of Cincinnati athletics Hall of Fame inductee and former quarterback, as his Knights were absolutely throttled by the Bearcats, 52-7.
We’ll get to Cincinnati’s numbers in a bit, because this was their day, but the performance from UCF was so brutal it cannot be ignored. This wasn’t a “well the defense played poorly,” or “man, the offense couldn’t get it going.” This one was a total team collapse.
The Knights looked the part of an 0-8 team that just lost its head coach.
The defense allowed 726 total yards, and looked bad in doing so. The Knights were called for at least four pass interference penalties, let wide receivers run wide open and missed a number of tackles at all three levels. It honestly didn’t matter who was on the field for the Bearcats, as big plays were available for them all game.
Offensively, the Knights totaled 313 yards and didn’t score until just 12:23 remained in the game.
Justin Holman continued his streak of poor play since returning from a hand injury he suffered against Stanford. His 12-23, 101-yard performance with one interception marks the fourth straight game for him with at least one interception and a completion percentage of 54 or less.
Definitive of UCF’s season: a WR beats his guy & is streaking down the sideline. Holman throws it over his head & 5 yards out of bounds.
— Mitch Wilcox (@mitch_wilcox) October 31, 2015
Even the special teams unit has been afflicted by this rough stretch for UCF. Place kicker Matthew Wright missed both of his field goal attempts, hitting one off the right upright and the other off the left.
As for the Bearcats, they carried the momentum from their domination of UConn last week over to this one. They jumped on the Knights from the kickoff and didn’t take their foot off the pedal.
After his best game of the season last week, quarterback Gunner Kiel was peerless in this one. He completed all 15 of his pass attempts for 319 yards and five touchdowns. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story, as you can’t see the accuracy and anticipation with which he threw so many of those balls today.
“Gunner was 15-for-15 in a college football game,” head coach Tommy Tuberville said in his postgame press conference. “That’s hard to do.”
Tuberville said this week both quarterbacks could see the field, and he did not lie. Despite how well Kiel was playing, Hayden Moore still came in to lead the offense in the second quarter. Moore also threw 15 passes and completed 11 of them for 154 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
11 different Bearcats caught a pass today, including Shaq Washington, who led the team with eight receptions on the way to setting Cincinnati’s all-time career receptions record at 205.
“It means a lot,” Washington said of the record, “[Kind of] feel like it leaves my legacy here. I mean, I started in, [kind of] at the bottom here, and now I’m [kind of] finishing at the top.”
While the passing game was the headliner today, the Bearcats also got it going on the ground again with 237 yards and a touchdown on 42 carries. Chad Banschbach led Cincinnati in carries with 18, largely in mop-up duty, while Tion Green racked up 58 yards and a touchdown on six carries.
“9.8 yards a play; that’s a lot of yards,” said Tuberville. “We were able to get the ball down the field, we were able to run it.”
The Bearcats will leave this one feeling good about themselves as they head to Texas to take on the 18th ranked Houston Cougars.
As for the Knights, they will lick their wounds all the way back to Orlando before trying again to win a game in 2015 at Tulsa next week.