The Knights (4-5, 1-5 in Big 12) won their first Big 12 game and gave coach Gus Malzahn his 99th career win as a head coach.
The Bearcats (2-7, 0-6) not only remained winless in Big 12 play, but they also became ineligible for a bowl game with their seventh loss of the season.
Here are three thoughts on the game.
A Compelling Ending
Given it was a battle of winless teams in league play, one might have been forgiven if one expected an ugly game. At times it wasn’t pretty. At one point early, Cincinnati quarterback Emory Jones was benched. But, in the fourth quarter, the game got quite compelling.
The Knights have struggled to score points in the fourth quarter and had been outscored 107-64 in the fourth going into the game. But, after Cincinnati cut UCF’s lead to 21-20 early in the fourth, UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee led a scoring drive that ended with RJ Harvey’s third touchdown run of the day to put the Knights up 28-20 with 2.41 left.
Rallying isn’t necessarily Cincinnati’s forte, but on this day they nearly got it done. Jones made his best pass of the day, a 37-yard pass to Braden Smith with perfect UCF coverage, to set up Corey Kiner’s 6-yard touchdown run with 1:27 left.
The Bearcats had a shot to tie, but Jones’ pass to Dee Wiggins for the 2-point conversion was incomplete. Somehow, Jones threaded the pass between two UCF defenders in the end zone. But, there was enough distraction to keep Wiggins from wrapping up the football.
It wasn’t to be. Cincinnati’s onside kick was recovered by UCF and the Knights ran out the clock for their first Big 12 victory.
Run The Ball
Do you like running the football? This was your game.
UCF handed the ball to Harvey 20 times and he rushed for 164 yards and three touchdowns, including what turned out to be the game winner. His second touchdown run was incredible. He looked completely bottled up by Cincinnati’s defense, but bounced out and outran the edge to get his second score. Of course, he haunts the Bearcats as he was the difference in their last meeting as American Athletic Conference members last season.
Cincinnati had two backs finish with 100 or more yards in the same game for the third time this season as the Bearcats had more than 500 yards in total offense. Kiner had 114 yards and a touchdown while Ryan Montgomery and 113 yards and a touchdown. They helped Cincinnati averaged 5.8 yards per carry.
Guess what? Harvey helped the Knights do the same thing.
What a great matchup of running backs, even if the teams don’t have the best records.
A Step Back Before A Step Forward
So, UCF got its first Big 12 win this week. The fact that UCF and Cincinnati went into this game winless in Big 12 action didn’t look great. But, frankly, none of the four new teams were going to be that successful in their first season.
All you have to do is look back at TCU and West Virginia..
TCU entered the Big 12 in 2012 coming off four straight seasons of 11 wins or better in the Mountain West. During that span the Horned Frogs lost one conference game. Yes, one. But the Horned Frogs knew taking a step up meant taking a step back, and they did. In 2012 TCU went 7-6, 4-5 in Big 12 play. The next year? TCU went 4-8, 2-7.
TCU had talent, but not depth, not the kind of depth you need at the Power 5 level.
Same held true for West Virginia. The Mountaineers were 10-3 in the Big East their final season in 2011. In fact, WVU won nine or more games seven straight seasons before joining the Big 12.
First season in the Big 12? WVU was 7-6, 4-5. Second season? It was 4-8, 2-7.
So all four new teams are struggling. In retrospect, that probably should have been expected. And, based on history, it might get worse before it gets better.iframe src=”https://app.e2ma.net/app2/audience/signup/1986400/1964875/” width=”510″ height=”500″ frameborder=”0″>
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.