No. 12 UCF extended the nation’s longest-running active win streak and gained a key conference win in its 52-40 victory against Temple on Thursday night.
UCF and Temple were the last teams in the American Athletic Conference East Division without a loss, but this win does not come close to locking up a spot in the conference title game. The Knights’ schedule was always backloaded, and this win against the Owls kickstarts the most important stretch of the season. Up next is Navy and Cincinnati at home, followed by the War On I-4 rivalry game against USF on Friday, Nov. 23.
The Knights, undefeated at 8-0 after the win, showed up a handful of spots higher than it did a year ago in the initial rankings. The selection committee debated UCF as a team that was in the 10-13 grouping, though that profile did not include a single win against a team with a winning record. Now UCF has one of those wins after beating Temple, and as long as Memphis and/or Pitt finish strong, there could be another one on the tally.
So while there’s a College Football Playoff angle to debate with UCF, there’s also the reality of the work left to be done in order for the Knights to win their own division and their own conference. The one spot in the New Year’s Six that’s reserved for the highest ranked Group of Five team requires that the team be its conference champion, so while there is plenty of encouragement to be taken from its initial playoff ranking, there’s a lot of work left to even match last year’s success.
Temple’s competitiveness in Thursday night’s game was just a reminder of how tough that can be, but the fact that UCF survived and got star quarterback McKenzie Milton back into rhythm provided some confidence to kickstart arguably the most important month in program history.
Here are four things to know from UCF’s win.
1. Milton is back: UCF’s junior quarterback warmed up for the ECU game two weeks ago only to be ruled out with an injury. Reports from Orlando indicated that Milton was still a “game time decision” and had not been running with the starters, but when the Knights took the field on Thursday, No. 10 was back in the huddle and it made a huge difference in the game. Milton completed 17-for-33 passes for 312 yards, three touchdowns and one interception while adding a rushing touchdown, looked crisp and healthy and alleviated any concerns raised by the unspecified issue that kept him out of the starting lineup last month. If all is well with Milton, then all is well with UCF’s playoff push.
2. Temple’s offense was devastated by injuries: The Owls took a 34-28 lead to the locker room at halftime and had no issues moving the ball against UCF. But injuries along the offensive line and an ankle injury for running back Ryquell Armstead (27 carries, 142 rushing yards) in the process of trying to steal a road win ultimately prevented Temple from achieving that goal. Quarterback Anthony Russo had himself a day against UCF, rolling up 444 passing yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions to pair with 46 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. Russo and Amstead’s success did not do much for the “eye test” aspect of UCF’s playoff profile, making the defense appear to be a vulnerability for the undefeated Knights.
3. The first half numbers were stupid: UCF and Temple combined for 808 yards and 39 first downs and 72 points in the first half. The entire game’s over-under was eclipsed in the first half, and the fans in Orlando were understandably anxious about the way the Owls marched right down the field before halftime to take the lead. UCF defensive coordinator Randy Shannon did a good job, just like he did against Memphis, of making adjustments at halftime and putting the ball back in Milton’s hands to lead the Knights to the victory.
4. UCF had the Halloween feeling: Check out Michael Meyers and Freddy Krueger on the sideline.
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