The Cincinnati Bearcats took advantage of Knights mistakes and a raucous Friday night crowd in prime time to hand the Knights their first conference loss since 2016.
UCF chose to live by the true freshman quarterback and die by the freshman quarterback. Dillon Gabriel threw for 297 yards and a TD, but 3 interceptions proved costly, including a pick six.
In the first half, UCF had to settle for field goals instead of TDs on three scoring drives. Gabriel threw a terrible interception with the Knights inside the 10 and lost a fumble leading to the Bearcats’ first TD.
Despite all this, UCF had 263 yards of offense, were 5-10 on 3rd down, had 19 1st downs, and only 1 penalty for 5 yards.
Oh, and they had a 6-point halftime lead.
The Knights’ defense played extraordinarily well in the 1st half, giving up only 124 yards and 10 points (7 coming from a TD after a fumble deep in UCF territory). Knights defenders tackled well and covered receivers all over the field.
For those of you who may be new to UCF football, this is how football games go sometimes.
Then, the wheels came off for UCF in the 3rd quarter. Cincinnati scored 10 points, and UCF could do nothing offensively. Michael Warren broke free for a 60-yard run to the UCF 11, followed by a Ridder TD pass to Alec Pierce to put the Bearcats up 27-16.
After a stagnant 3rd quarter offensively, the Knights continued to let Gabriel helm the ship, opting not to play Darriel Mack Jr.
UCF drove the field after the UC TD, but Gabriel threw an interception at the 6 yard line in a series of plays which featured very physical play by UC defenders.
UCF’s offensive line continued to get pushed around by the Bearcats’ defensive line. Gabriel had no time to pass, suffering 2 sacks in a row backing up UCF to their own 3 late in the 4th quarter.
After a late UCF TD and 2-point conversion to pull the Knights to within a field goal, UCF was unable to recover an onside kick. UC gained a 1st down after a long delay for 4th and inches and was able to end the game in victory formation.
The Knights get a much needed bye week to figure some things out offensively. The good news is the defense and special teams have performed well in the first half of the season.