(Photo by Adrian J. Hernandez / New Day Review)
When it comes to weather in the early-season going, the No. 22 UCF Knights have had some of the worst luck.
Hurricane Irma disrupted the former half of the Knights’ 2017 season, cancelling two games and forcing the rescheduling of another. In Week 6, even away from Florida, UCF was still affected by weather, as UCF (4-0, 2-0 in American Athletic Conference) steamrolled its way to a 51-23 victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats (2-4, 0-2 in AAC) in a weather-shortened game.
Going into the week of preparation, UCF running-backs coach Ryan Held said weather would most likely play a factor in the Knights’ first conference road game of the season, but he couldn’t have possibly thought a whole quarter wouldn’t have been played because of it.
However, the weather played no role in the first three quarters of UCF’s second-highest scoring game this season.
In just three quarters, UCF would finish with 51 points, 515 total yards and 374 passing yards. While the run game did not dazzle like it has over the past two games (300 rushing yards per game), the Knights still rushed for 141 yards on 21 carries (6.7 yards per carry).
The stars of the night, though, were quarterback McKenzie Milton and wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith. Both had career performances and were instrumental in UCF’s fourth blowout in as many games this season.
Here are the key takeaways from the Knights’ road win over Cincinnati.
McKenzie Milton Showing Significant Improvement in 1st 4 Games
Milton had the best game of his career in the win over Cincinnati. From the start, Milton was in command. On his first touchdown throw of the game, Milton made an experienced play-action throw to Dredrick Snelson for an opening, 54-yard score.
The sophomore finished with a career-high 374 yards and five touchdowns, completing 84.2 percent of his 19 passes. Losing the fourth quarter killed the quarterback’s chances of getting to the 400-yard mark, which has only been reached 10 times by a UCF quarterback. The last time a UCF quarterback threw for at least 400 yards was when Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns in a 39-36 win over Temple University in 2013.
Tre’Quan Smith Deserves to Be Considered Best Receiver in Nation
In the preseason, Smith was named to the Fred Biletnikoff Award watch list, an award earned by the best receiver in college football. Smith continues to make his case for not only being in consideration for the award but for being the recipient of it. Last week against the Memphis Tigers, Smith caught three balls, two of them touchdowns, in a 40-13 win. In Week 6, the redshirt junior was even more explosive.
Smith had his fourth multi-touchdown game of his career and his first game with three receiving touchdowns against Cincinnati. The receiver smoked opposing defensive backs all night, consistently beating them off the line of scrimmage. Smith also scored his first-career rushing touchdown in the third quarter on a five-yard sweep to the right.
Like Milton, the early ending impeded on Smith’s chance to set his career-high in receiving yards. Smith finished with five catches for 165 yards and three touchdowns. His career-high came in a 183-yard performance in a 48-31 loss to the University of South Florida last season.
Penalties Could Be the Achilles Heel of This Team
Despite another blowout win, the first 4-0 start since 1982 and a top-25 ranking, the seemingly indomitable Knights have their faults. The Knights currently average the third-most penalties per game, getting called for 10 penalties per game. Tied with UCF is the University of Toledo. The Oregon Ducks average the most penalties per game in college football, recording 10.3 penalties per game. UCF’s 81 penalty yards per game is also 10th-most in the nation.
Against Cincinnati, the Knights were called for eight penalties for 44 yards in three quarters. While 44 yards isn’t a number of great concern, the Knights conceded costly penalties that set up Cincinnati for some of its scores.
Redshirt junior safety Tre Neal committed a pass-interference penalty in the end zone that gave Cincinnati the ball at the two-yard line for the Bearcats’ first score of the game. In the waning minutes of the first half, the Bearcats faced third-and-10 situation on UCF’s 39-yard line and got the first down without running a single play. Sophomore D-lineman Trysten Hill and redshirt senior linebacker Shaquem Griffin were called for back-to-back offsides, and Cincinnati would come away with a field goal.
UCF’s Offense Has Host of Playmakers
Smith wasn’t the only Knights skill player to do damage against Cincinnati. UCF got a boost from two of its leading rushers, as Adrian Killins and Taj McGowan combined for 73 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries (6.1 yards per carry). Freshman wide receiver Marlon Williams helped in UCF’s rushing attack, too, recording a game-high 47-yard run.
UCF found even more success and utilized more assets through the air. Milton started the game 5-for-5, finding five different receivers in the process. While Smith may be the perennial go-to target, Snelson has proven to be just reliable. Through the first four games, Snelson and Smith have each caught 15 passes for 213 yards and 337 yards, respectively. Snelson finished with three catches for 74 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati.
All three of the Knights’ tight ends made contributions in the win over Cincinnati, too, as each caught passes of 20 yards or more. Jordan Akins paced the tight ends with two catches, but Michael Colubiale had the lone touchdown of the group midway through the second.
Freshman Otis Anderson added 42 receiving yards on two receptions as well. As for Gabriel Davis, he’s been quiet since catching four balls for 53 yards and a touchdown in the season-opening win over the FIU Panthers. He caught his first pass since Week 1 in Cincinnati, recording one reception for 12 yards. Davis nearly had a touchdown at the start of the third, but an off-target throw on the goal line thwarted that.
Knights Defense Has Another Worrisome Drive
In the win over Memphis, UCF’s defense allowed Memphis to drive 71 yards in eight plays for a touchdown on the Tigers’ first possession of the game. At his team’s game-week presser heading into Week 6, Knights head coach Scott Frost said that drive “worried” him. Though, UCF would go on to hold the Tigers scoreless until Memphis scored a last-second, folly touchdown as time expired in Knights’ win.
While it wasn’t the first drive of the game for Cincinnati, the Bearcats did have a similar drive on their second possession. A 12-play, 82-yard drive cut into UCF’s two-score lead, as quarterback Hayden Moore’s two-yard rushing score made it 13-7. But, like in the win over Memphis, UCF’s defense made its necessary adjustments and held Cincinnati to no more than nine points per quarter the rest of the way.
For more on the Knights, as they look to carry the momentum from one of their best offensive performances under Frost into their next game, follow Ryan Weiss on Twitter at @NDR_RyanWeiss.