Nov. 4, 2011
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. - UCF senior guard Cliff McCray, whose block paved the way for a Ronnie Weaver touchdown run just before the half Thursday night, said he would do everything in his power to make sure the Knights finish this season on a positive note.
UCF's chances of getting back to the Conference USA title game took a major hit Thursday night in a 24-17 loss to Tulsa at Bright House Networks Stadium. Still mathematically alive, the Knights need to win the three remaining games to stay in the hunt and must get two more victories to be bowl eligible.
``To pick up the guys, we're just going to have to do what we can. As a senior group, I know we're going to want to leave some type of mark and be an example for the younger guys,'' McCray said. ``All year long we've been facing adversity, but we have to really improve and do the best with what we have left. The conference championship looks like it could be out of the way, but we have three more games to get us to a bowl game. We're going to be fighting our butts off and doing whatever we can to do that.''
UCF entered the season hoping to repeat as conference champions and win a third league title in five years. Now, the Knights are shockingly in a fight just to get into a bowl game for a third straight season.
McCray, a fifth-year senior, stressed that there's still plenty of fight left in these Knights. He was a part of an offensive line that helped UCF roll up 381 yards and hold the ball for almost 33 minutes.
``Surprise would be an understatement. Disbelief would be more like it because we had high expectations for this season,'' McCray said. ``But again, through all of this we have to find a way to win these last three games and get to a bowl game. It's just really tough to swallow this loss.''
FUTURE IS HERE: Clearly, the future is now as it relates to UCF's wide receiving corps.
The decision was made three weeks ago to go with receivers Josh Reese, J.J. Worton and Rannell Hall as the primary targets in the offense, and the freshmen have responded in a big way.
Worton and Reese caught touchdown passes in the SMU game three weeks ago, and they have played well since by making both the routine and spectacular catches. Reese, a former high school teammate of UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey at Miami Central, caught 13 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown in the previous three games. He had a first-down catch for 11 yards Thursday night.
Worton, a Homestead native, had 13 catches for 107 yards and steadied the punt return game in the past three weeks. He caught a 28-yard TD and had a 41-yard catch Thursday night to put UCF in position to tie the game.
Hall, a true freshman, had a 97-yard kickoff return wiped out by a penalty on Thursday night. But he caught the first two passes of his career (for 17 yards) and two screen passes were ruled as rushes (for 11 yards).
O'Leary said he's been most impressed with the concentration level of his three freshmen.
``They're doing one thing really well right now and that's catching anything that's thrown at them,'' O'Leary said. ``They've proven they can catch the easy passes and go up and make all of the tough ones too. They clearly have a bright future here. They're kind of getting their baptism right now playing this early, but what I like most is that they're getting better every week.''
HOME REPUTATION: UCF entered Thursday night's game 4-0 at Bright House Networks, and clearly its reputation as a dominant home team has spread throughout Conference USA. Coming into Friday's game, UCF's defense had not yielded a touchdown at Bright House Networks Stadium all season.
Dating back to last season, UCF had won eight of nine games against C-USA foes. UCF previously beat Tulsa 44-23 in 2007 in the regular season and 44-25 in the C-USA title game that same season.
Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship tried to prepare his team for the hostile crowd in Orlando by practicing with noise in the background all week. He told The Tulsa World newspaper that the noise at Bright House Networks Stadium is unlike any other his team had played in front of - and that includes road games at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
``Honestly, in the times we've played there, our players may tell you it is the loudest place they've ever played,'' Blankenship said. ``Certainly, it's equivalent to any of the loud ones we've ever been and I think it's the loudest we've ever been.''
ETC: UCF safety Clayton Geathers had the finest game of his career with 13 total tackles and a pass breakup. Josh Robinson (eight stops) and Lyle Dankenbring (seven tackles) also played well as UCF's top three tacklers were defensive backs. ... Senior defensive end Darius Nall missed his second consecutive game Thursday night with an undisclosed injury. Nall is 13th on the team in tackles with 15 total stops. ... Bernard Ford (football), Jenny Frank (volleyball), Greg Jefferson (football), Cliff Kresge (men's golf), Jorge Magluta (football), Manny Messeguer (Special Assistant to football) and former administrator Art Zeleznik will be inducted into UCF's Hall of Fame Friday night. The ceremony begins at 6:30 p.m. at the J. Rolfe Davis Recruiting Lounge at Bright House Networks Stadium. Te reserve tickets for the event, contact the Golden Knights Club at 407-882-1286.
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.