UCF Knights

Bowl win confirms NC State going in right direction under Dave Doeren

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A year ago, North Carolina State’s decision to hire Dave Doeren didn’t reflect favorably on the university. A year later and Doeren helped orchestrate the second biggest turnaround in major college football this season.

With the 34-27 victory over the UCF Knights in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl, the Wolfpack finished 8-5 overall, which is a five-game improvement in the win column for Doeren.

The improvement came naturally for a young and improving roster. Only six seniors started on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, the young players stepped up, particularly during the bowl game.

Quarterback Jacoby Brissett, a Florida transfer, strung together an outstanding performance against the Knights. The junior was 15-of-26 passing for 262 yards and a touchdown. The quarterback carried the team to a 17-10 halftime lead before the running game took over in the second half.

Both junior Shadrach Thornton and sophomore Matt Dayes finished the opening half with less rushing yards (29) than Brissett. Yet the duo exploded in the second half courtesy of a strong run-blocking effort by North Carolina State’s offensive line.

Wolfpack offensive coordinator Matt Canada repeatedly called inside zone runs to gash UCF’s stout defense. The Knights entered the bowl game with the fifth-ranked rush defense. Thornton and Dayes, however, shredded George O’Leary‘s defense with 174 total yards including a pair of touchdowns from the sophomore.

Despite the loss, UCF continues to prove its one of the best programs among the Group of Five conferences. The Knights finished 9-5 overall. It’s the fourth time in five years that O’Leary led the program to at least nine wins.

But the spotlight will shine on Doeren Friday due to the tremendous job he orchestrated this season with a program that wasn’t expected to compete at a high level.

The coach will now be expected to take the program to yet another level next season, and it’ll be possible to do so with a seasoned Brissett behind center and a talented stable of running backs.

Jacoby Brissett steals show as NC State leads UCF 17-10 at halftime of St. Petersburg Bowl

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North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett was nearly perfect through two quarters of play in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl. As a result, the Wolfpack established a 17-10 lead over the UCF Knights with the two teams preparing for the second half of play.

Brissett was 10-of-12 passing for 197 yards and a touchdown. He was elusive in the pocket, extended plays and placed plenty of stress on UCF’s defense due to his ability to run the football if needed. The quarterback led the Wolfpack with 29 rushing yards.

The only mistake Brissett made came at the end of the half when he took a sack while the Wolfpack was in scoring position. North Carolina State had an opportunity to extend the lead by two scores and receive the kickoff in the second half, but the sack forced the clock to run out for halftime.

UCF’s Justin Holman hasn’t been quite as good, but he’s been solid and created a few big plays in the first half. The sophomore was 11-of-19 passing for 118 yards and a touchdown. The UCF signal-caller didn’t make any key mistakes, and his team remains within striking distance.

Holman needs help, though. George O’Leary‘s offense is predicated on establishing the run, which allows the quarterback to strike down field. North Carolina State’s defense held the Knights’ rushing attack to 3.7 yards per carry. UCF needs to stay ahead of the chains to keep pressure of its quarterback and put him in the best position to succeed.

Brissett, on the other hand, needs to get his offense into the end zone. North Carolina State drove the ball inside the 30-yard line on its final two drives. Those drives resulted in only three points.

Despite an impressive first half performance, Brissett will need to continue his current level of play for the Wolfpack to secure its first bowl victory under head coach Dave Doeren.

George O’Leary plans to return to UCF, continue coaching

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Speculation ran rampant all season that the 68-year-old George O’Leary would retire after this season.

O’Leary doesn’t even plan on retiring in the near future.

UCF’s head coach told the Orlando Sentinel‘s Paul Tenorio that he has “every intention of coaching through the end of my contract.”

O’Leary signed a four-year contract extension after the Knights’ 52-42 victory over the Baylor Bears in this year’s Fiesta Bowl. If he were to coach throughout the entirety of his contract, O’Learly will be 71 years old. But he’s earned the right to continue to lead a program after two-straight American Athletic Conference titles.

During his 11 seasons with the program, the Knights own an 81-59 record. The team finished 0-11 in O’Leary’s first season at the helm of the program. A year later, UCF was 8-5 overall and made a bowl game appearance.

However, O’Leary provided a caveat for his decision to keep coaching the Knights.

O’Leary also told Tenorio that “he will go to his lake house in Georgia after UCF’s bowl game to consider his future” but “as of right now, I expect to be coaching next year.”

UCF continues to be one of the top programs from the Group of Five under O’Leary’s supervision. As long as he continues to lead the program, the Knights will be one of the favorites to win the American each and every season.

Three-way tie atop American after UCF’s 31-7 victory over Tulsa

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The UCF Knights remained in the race to win an American Athletic Conference crown with a 31-7 victory over Tulsa Friday.

UCF is now 4-1 in conference play and tied with the Memphis Tigers and Cincinnati Bearcats. This is especially important since all three teams are jockeying to become the representative from the “Group of Five” conferences not included in the College Football Playoff discussion to earn a berth in a New Year’s bowl game.

Tie-breakers will likely decide which team will win the conference since UCF doesn’t play either Memphis or Cincinnati this season.

Friday’s contest became a statement game for quarterback Justin Holman. The sophomore signal-caller has been maddeningly inconsistent this season as evidenced by a four-interception performance in a loss to the Connecticut Huskies last week. UCF head coach George O’Leary challenged him this week to step up his play, and the quarterback did so in impressive fashion.

Even with dealing with a shoulder injury that sent him to the locker room for a short time, Holman set a career-high with three passing touchdowns. The quarterback finished the contest 16-of-27 passing for 291 yards.

Senior Josh Reese was Holman’s top target. The experienced wide receiver caught four passes for 104 yards. Meanwhile, sophomore running back Dontravious Wilson averaged 5.1 yards per carry for 87 yards as the team’s top rusher.

It was also an important victory for O’Leary.

Among rumors of retirement this season, O’Leary continues to put a successful program on the field. One that has a chance to win a second consecutive American Athletic Conference title.

BYU needs to build a new identity after 31-24 loss to UCF Knights

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BYU’s aspirations of sneaking into the College Football Playoff ended when quarterback Taysom Hill‘s knee exploded. The Cougars’ letdown against the Utah State Aggies Saturday carried over to Thursday night’s contest against the UCF Knights.

Hill’s replacement, Christian Stewart, wasn’t quite good enough to help BYU regain the momentum the team built during its 4-0 start to the season. Instead, the Knights (3-2) captured a 31-24 overtime victory.

Stewart, a senior, played well for stretches. After a sub-par first half, Stewart seemed to hit his stride. BYU scored all three of its touchdowns during the third frame. But the offense couldn’t manage to make key plays down the stretch or in overtime.

The Cougars sorely missed Hill’s ability to improvise and push the ball down field in the passing game. Stewart finished 22-of-37 passing for only 153 yards. While Stewart isn’t the same level of athlete as Hill, he still added 52 rushing yards. It was a solid effort during the senior’s first career start. But his play will be compared to Hill for the rest of the season. When BYU isn’t victorious, Stewart’s performance will come under scrutiny.

BYU’s disappointing stretch doesn’t fall predominantly on its new starting quarterback, though. The Cougars vaunted defense didn’t play to expectations.

The Cougars’ defense is built on toughness by winning at the line of scrimmage and aggressiveness with the ability to get to the opposing quarterbacks. Yet, the Knights gained 389 yards of total offense.

UCF quarterback Justin Holman entered Thursday’s game with 12 combined completions during the previous two contests. Holman threw the ball 51 times and completed 30 passes against the Cougars.

BYU’s defense is banged up and missing multiple starters at the moment, but Cougars defensive coordinator Nick Howell remained aggressive in his play-calling. It wasn’t enough as BYU fell short each time the defense was required to make a play at crucial points in the contest.

The cougars didn’t have answer for UCF in overtime. The Knights quickly marched 25 yards on five plays to score the game’s winning touchdown when Holman found William Stanback out of the backfield for a four-yard touchdown connection.

As Stewart leads BYU through the rest of the season, the quarterback’s goal is to make sure the program stays on track and becomes bowl eligible. Two more wins should come easily, and the program is already locked into an agreement with the newly minted Miami Beach Bowl. Although, games against the Nevada Wolf Pack, Boise State Broncos and Cal Golden Bears look far more difficult now than they did two weeks ago.

UCF, meanwhile, enters the heart of their conference schedule with a contest against the Tulane Green Wave Saturday, Oct. 18. The Knights should become bowl eligible by the first weekend of November with the Temple Owls and Connecticut Huskies on the docket after next weekend’s game.