J.J. Worton

Defenses come to play as UCF leads Houston 7-6 at halftime

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Prior to Thursday’s meeting, the Houston Cougars and UCF Knights combined to average 56.5 points per game. Of course, a defensive skirmish ensued during the first half.

The Knights lead 7-6 after two quarters of play

In today’s college football landscape, it’s odd not seeing two teams easily march up and down the field on offense. Yet, neither team managed to reach 150 yards of total offense in the first half. Houston actually gained more yards with 143, but UCF was up to the task in the red-zone.

The key moment came when the Cougars drove the ball to UCF’s one-foot line. On 4th-and-goal, Cougars quarterback John O’Korn attempted a back-shoulder fade to wide receiver Deontay Greenberry. The pass fell incomplete, and UCF took over on downs.

Even the game’s lone touchdown was set up by UCF’s defense. Knights safety Clayton Geathers read O’Korn’s eyes, drove on an underneath route to cut off the intended pass and ended up with an interception. With the ball at Houston’s 25-yard line, the Knights were in business.

Five plays later, UCF quarterback Justin Holman found receiver Jackie Williams open in the end-zone. Ironically, the Cougars had a safety covering over the top and a linebacker underneath the slant route, yet neither defender was able to identify the football to make a play before Williams ensnared the pass.

Neither quarterback proved to be efficient. Both teams should turn to their running games in the second half to finally get on track. The Knights should also receive a boost from wide receiver Rannell Hall, who missed the first half after a unnecessary roughness penalty last weekend. But UCF is expected to be without a reliable target in J.J. Worton, who left the game in the second quarter due to a rib injury.

Both these defenses have been stingy through two quarters, but both offenses are bound to play better in the second half after poor starts to the game.

UCF plans to name Blake Bortles’ successor by end of weekend

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Who will replace Blake Bortles as UCF’s starting quarterback?

The Knights’ coaching staff still doesn’t have an answer to that question, but one should be coming very soon.

UCF head coach George O’Leary told reporters he wants to name his starter Sunday in order to build chemistry in the huddle. The coach has plenty of options from which to choose.

Sophomore Justin Holman is considered the favorite after entering fall camp atop the depth chart. Holman was the team’s primary backup last season and played in three games. Pete DiNovo was in the same recruiting class as Holman, but he redshirted last season and now gets his chance to compete for the starting spot. Freshman Tyler Harris is a four-star recruit with plenty of natural ability. Finally, Boise State transfer Nick Patti arrived on campus this summer after being a promising three-star recruit as part of Boise State’s 2012 recruiting class.

“Once coach makes a decision, it’ll be somewhat of relief for everyone just so we don’t have to answer that question people are always asking,” senior wide receiver J.J. Worton told the Orlando Sentinel‘s Shannon Owens-Green.

With O’Leary’s decision only a day away, the picture has started to clarify for the rest of the team.

“I think it’s starting to show itself and reveal itself,” said Charlie Taaffe, UCF’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “But having said that, none of these guys have really played any significant gamer. … So now we have to see how they perform in a game. Some guys are great practice players, but can’t transfer it to the game field and vice versa. Some guys show up on game days. We’re still learning. You got four guys that we know very little about and that’s the way it is.”

Whichever quarterback is eventually named the starter won’t be eased into the position. The Knights open their season Aug. 30 in Dublin, Ireland against the Penn State Nittany Lions.

UCF dominant in national showcase vs. Rutgers

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On Thursday night No. 18 Central Florida (9-1, 6-0 AAC) put on a bit of a show for potential bowls looking at the Golden Knights as an option, including potential BCS bowl landing spots. A 41-17 victory over Rutgers (5-5, 2-4 AAC) was every bit as easy as the score would seem to indicate, and Central Florida is now one win away from potentially clinching the automatic BCS berth out of The American.

Central Florida more than doubled the offensive production of Rutgers (455-221). Blake Bortles completed 21 of 30 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 32 yards and another touchdown while running back Storm Johnson rushed for a team-high 75 yards and two touchdowns. J.J. Worton had 117 receiving yards as well after saving the day, and the season, last weekend in Philadelphia against Temple.

Central Florida can get closer to wrapping up the American’s automatic BCS berth next week with a Friday home game against South Florida. Already with wins over Louisville and Houston, Central Florida owns the tie breakers in the American. With two games to play and a one-game lead in the loss column on preseason favorite Louisville, one win gives Central Florida the first ever American football championship. There are some scenarios that can come in to play that could award the BCS berth to another team, but that does not appear to be likely if Central Florida plays like this again next week.

The blowout win could also throw a wrinkle in to the BCS situation though. Fresno State and Northern Illinois must finish ahead of one automatic BCS conference champion in order to qualify for an automatic BCS berth out of the Mountain West (Fresno State) or MAC (Northern Illinois). But if Central Florida should happen to pass either school in the BCS standings, the chances of clinching an automatic BCS spot become a bit more difficult, needing to finish higher in the BCS standings.

Central Florida, with one loss against South Carolina, is probably not likely to pass either the Bulldogs or Huskies, but if Central Florida is more dominant in their final games than either BCS busting hopeful, it could be something to keep an eye on.

Late blocked punt return gives Rutgers life, UCF leads 28-14

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Central Florida is taking a firm grip on the American Conference tonight in Orlando. Leading Rutgers 28-14 at halftime, Central Florida is beginning to move another step closer to their first conference championship since winning the Conference USA championship in 2010. This time, of course, a BCS berth is on the line and beginning to come within reach for the Golden Knights.

Storm Johnson has rushed for two touchdowns to fuel the ground game. Blake Bortles has spread te football around to his receivers with five different players recording at least two catches in the first half. Last week’s hero in Philadelphia, J.J. Worton has four catches for 84 yards at the half to lead the Golden Knights. Bortles has passed for over 200 yards and a touchdown. He also made a play with his feet, wiggling around inside the red zone to find a path to the end zone with Rutgers scrambling to stop him. Bortles actually leads Central Florida in rushing with five carries for 39 yards.

Central Florida has also been playing well on defense, holding Rutgers to just 104 yards of total offense. Rutgers did start to make this interesting for the second half when Anthony Cioffi blocked a Central Florida punt late in the half and returned it for a touchdown. The blocked punt return turned a 28-7 game in to a 28-14, two-possession game. Rutgers gets the football to start the second half.