There were plenty of football games around the American Athletic Conference this week, but no game was as important or as exciting as undefeated UCF vs one-loss USF. That game is the sole focus of this week’s edition of Around the American.
UCF 49, South Florida 42
In a game that lived up to all imaginable hype, UCF put away South Florida on Saturday to cement their status as one of the two remaining undefeated teams in college football.
UCF and South Florida threw haymakers at each other all night, with two wildly different offensive styles. South Florida’s spastic offense consisted mainly of Quinton Flowers scrambling all over the field, turning UCF defenders inside out and around again, all the while chucking bombs for huge chunk gains.
Quinton Flowers bombed it out to his hulk of a receiver, Tyre McCants, over and over again, for a total of 227 yards on the day. If you lined up 10 players on USF’s football team, McCants is the last player you’d think played receiver. He’s only 5-foot-11 and weighs 235 lbs, but his massive lower body strength allows him to outmuscle smaller defensive backs to make tough grabs.
This was on full display midway through the first quarter, when he caught a pass from Flowers at the 50-yard line and ran all the way in for a touchdown, literally dragging UCF’s 6-foot-2, 230 pound linebacker Chequan Burkett for about 10 yards into the endzone.
Flowers had the best game of his career, dodging UCF defenders on his way to a staggering 503 yards passing and 102 yards rushing, making plays that nobody else in the country has proven capable of making. Flowers had one of the most impressive performances of any player this year, and I hope that isn’t forgotten.
On the other side, UCF’s number one offense in the nation consisted of read options, throwback screens and short passes, all orchestrated by quarterback McKenzie Milton and carried out by speedster running back Adrian Killins and an array of receivers.
Milton commanded the UCF offense with ruthless efficiency, throwing for 373 yards and four touchdowns, but one of the most beautiful football plays I’ve seen this year wasn’t described in the box score.
Late in the first quarter, UCF was at the 15-yard line, threatening to go up two scores. Milton was lined up in the shotgun with Killins to his left. Running back Bentavious Thompson motioned into the backfield, and the Knights ran a modified triple option from the shotgun. Milton faked the handoff to Thompson, then ran out right with Killins. He faked the pitch to Killins, then tucked it and ran, right into the waiting arms of linebacker Auggie Sanchez.
Just as Milton was getting tackled seven yards down the field, he pitched it late to Killins, who had stayed in perfect 5×1 pitch relationship, and he took it the rest of the way for the touchdown to put UCF up two scores. You rarely see the late pitch utilized in football anymore, even with option teams like the service academies, so it was amazing to see here.
The Bulls answered back in the second and third quarters, taking advantage of two UCF turnovers with two Flowers touchdown passes and a touchdown run, putting the Bulls in the lead until Milton struck back, throwing a 45-yard play-action missile to a wide-open Dredrick Snelson.
And somehow, even after 57 minutes and over 1,000 yards of total offense, the wildest part of the game was yet to come. UCF was up 35-34, and promptly drove 80 yards down the field in a drive that culminated in a perfectly-executed 23-yard screen pass to Otis Anderson for a touchdown.
Down eight with under 1:30 to go, USF needed to score to keep their AAC championship hopes alive. Flowers dropped back from his own 17-yard line, and unleashed an unholy strike to receiver Darnell Solomon, who toasted the defensive back for an 83-yard touchdown. Flowers then dumped the ball off to a wide-open D’Ernest Johnson for the game-tying two point conversion.
Now it was UCF who needed a miracle to keep their undefeated season alive. The miracle came in the form of kick returner Mike Hughes. He caught the kickoff at the five yard line, split the South Florida line, looked the last defender off, then he was gone, taking the kickoff back 95 yards for a touchdown.
Flowers had one chance to lead the Bulls down the field with one minute left. He had done pretty much everything right the whole game, and Johnson had given them great field position at their own 44-yard line, but it wasn’t enough. On 3rd-and-9, Flowers completed a pass to Mitchell Wilcox for ten yards, who fumbled the ball. UCF recovered, sealing their perfect season.
Luke Swanson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.