Nov. 9, 2009
By John Denton
UCF gave No. 2 Texas all it wanted for most of Saturday, but the Knights' upset bid ultimately died after the Longhorns found holes through the air when they couldn't run the ball.
Stuffed all day on the ground, Texas turned to Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Colt McCoy and likely All-American wide out Jordan Shipley to turn a close game into a runaway. McCoy passed for 470 yards and two touchdowns and Shipley had a school-record 273 receiving yards in Texas' 35-3 defeat of the short-handed Knights.
UCF once led 3-0 in the game, but couldn't hold it when the offense mustered just 151 total yards. The Knights were without gritty quarterback Brett Hodges and tailback Brynn Harvey, who didn't play because of injuries.
But before we move ahead to Saturday's massive Conference USA showdown against No. 12 Houston, let's look back at the five things we learned from Saturday's loss to a Longhorns team that will likely be playing in the national title game in January:
1. Coach George O'Leary was right to hold out Hodges and Harvey.
Undoubtedly beating Texas would have been a landmark victory for UCF, but the Knights were big underdogs for a reason. The Longhorns have national champion-caliber depth and talent, and beating them deep in the heart of Texas would have defied all the odds.
Hodges took a beating in UCF's 21-20 defeat of Marshall two weeks ago, getting splattered on the turf several times on Herd blitzes. He limped out of the locker room after the game and was doubled over in pain in his ribs. So protecting him from a top-ranked Texas defense and allowing him to heal his injuries prior to the Houston game was easily the right thing to do. If UCF is going to match points with Houston, it must have a healthy Hodges and Harvey come Saturday afternoon.
The way UCF fought defensively shows that in no way did the Knights lie down and not try to win this game. UCF didn't have its full complement of weapons, but that doesn't mean they weren't trying to pull off the massive upset.
2. UCF's front seven proved itself to be among the best run stoppers in the country.
The fact that Texas was still passing the ball late in the game showed just how little confidence it had in trying to run the ball against the Knights.
Texas had to quickly abandon its game plan of trying to run the ball early on after getting repeatedly stuffed. For the game, Texas ran for just 67 yards on 25 carries, a paltry 2.6 yards per carry. UCF middle linebacker Cory Hogue played one of his best games of the season, racking up a game-high 12 tackles.
The strong effort against the run allowed UCF to move up even higher in the national rankings. The Knights are fourth in the country against the run (85.4 yards per game). They rank just behind powerhouse programs Texas, Alabama and Ohio State and just ahead of Oklahoma. The problem, of course, is that the Knights are 114th in the country in pass defense (267.5 yards per game) and have yielded 12 TDs through the air.
3. Cornerback Josh Robinson is learning some valuable lessons that will pay off in the future.
Robinson came to UCF as the school's most decorated recruit last spring, and it's little surprise that he quickly blossomed into a starter as a true freshman. And he's making a strong case to earn All-Freshman honors nationally and in C-USA by picking off a pass in four of the past five games for the Knights.
But he was once again beat deep - this time on a double move by Shipley for an 88-yard touchdown. It was a predictable mistake for a young player looking in the backfield or trying to jump a short route for a big play.
For the most part, Robinson has been in position to make plays this season and he's even tightened his coverage dramatically in recent weeks. What happened Saturday in Texas had to be humbling for the young cornerback, but he will learn from those mistakes and be better for it in years to come. He has as much talent as any player in UCF's secondary and when his experience level catches up to that talent, he'll blossom into a Joe Burnett-type of defensive back.
4. McCoy could very well go on to win the Heisman Trophy.
Numbers-wise, it hasn't been a dazzling senior season for McCoy. All he has done is win games and play efficiently. His 72.9 percent completion percentage and his 2,447 passing yards are impressive, but his nine interceptions are way too many for a quarterback as heady as he is.
If Texas runs the table and McCoy moves ahead of Florida's Tim Tebow to win the Heisman, he could look back at Saturday as the effort that won the award for him. He calmly went through his reads, picking UCF apart by hitting on 33 of his 42 throws.
His pump-fake and deep throw on the 88-yarder to Shipley was a thing of beauty. One thing that could hurt McCoy's chances of winning the Heisman is that Shipley could steal some of his Heisman votes. Shipley, arguably one of the best wide receivers in the country along with suspended Oklahoma State star Dez Bryant and Georgia's A.J. Green, is second in the country with 75 catches and he also has 1,050 receiving yards and six TD catches.
5. UCF faces a monumental task trying to slow down Houston's Case Keenum.
Keenum's numbers look like something out of a video game this season. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior from Abilene, Texas, has passed for 3,815 yards and 28 touchdowns, while completing 70.9 percent of his passes and throwing just five interceptions.
He's had at least 359 yards passing in every game but one, he's topped 500 yards three times and he's thrown at least three TDs in six games this season. At this rate, he's on pace to throw for 5,087 yards and 37 scores.
UCF's stingy defense can do something about it though. UCF must get pressure on Keenum, and the Knights have the defensive front to do just that. UCF ranks sixth in the nation in sacks per game (3.22). The Knights have registered 29 sacks on the season, dropping quarterbacks for 230 yards in losses.
And UCF ranks sixth in the nation in tackles for losses, racking up 74 TFLs on the season for an average of 8.22 a game.
UCF's pass rush has been at its best in some of the biggest games. The Knights dropped Miami star quarterback Jacory Harris six times a month ago, while Jarvis Geathers sacked McCoy twice last Saturday. Defensive ends Bruce Miller and Geathers are tied for seventh in the country in sacks with nine apiece.
Keenum is certainly susceptible to being dropped. He's been sacked 12 times so far. The key will be UCF's defensive backs getting tight enough coverage to force Keenum to hold the ball long enough for the rush to get there.
John Denton's Knights Insider appears several times a week on UCFatheltics.com. E-mail John at email@example.com.