Whether it is the Big East or American Athletic Conference, the UCF Knights won 10 straight league games after Thursday’s 17-12 victory over the Houston Cougars. It only took a game-saving forced fumble by Knights safety Brandon Alexander with 24 seconds remaining to clinch the win.
While the Knights had the luxury of quarterback Blake Bortles in previous seasons, a George O’Leary squad is always built around fundamentally sound defense. The defense couldn’t have come up any bigger than it did against the Cougars as it appeared the game was about to slip away and result in a loss.
Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was on the verge of slicing through the Knights’ defense to steal a victory as he dove for the end zone. Alexander worked his way across the field to hit Ward’s arms as the quarterback attempted to stretch the ball beyond the goal line. Alexander’s hit forced a fumble which went out of the back of the end zone. And a desperate Cougars comeback fell short.
Despite coming up inches short, a quarterback controversy is brewing for the Houston Cougars.
Ward did everything in his power to close the deficit the Cougars faced after sophomore signal-caller John O’Korn struggled through another half. O’Korn may be the traditional pocket passer while Ward does everything on offense and special teams, but the backup quarterback brought a completely different dynamic as a runner as well as a passer. Ward was 10-of-17 passing for 116 yards in the second half. O’Korn, meanwhile, was 12-of-25 passing for 98 yards and a pair of interceptions through the first two quarters.
UCF doesn’t have the same concerns. They settled on sophomore Justin Holman after the first half of the first game against the Penn State Nittany Lions. Holman was only 3-of-10 passing in the first half, but he connected with wide receiver Breshad Perriman for 52 yards and the game’s deciding touchdown in the third frame.
The Knights are now one of four teams in the American to open conference play with a 1-0 record. This particular victory was vital since the Cougars were expected to be one of the top teams vying for a conference crown. With Houston out of the way, UCF can now concentrate the No. 18 BYU Cougars before the Knights reenter conference play.