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November 13, 2013

UCF in driver's seat for American title

What's shaping up as potentially the best UCF season in the history of the football program is still alive thanks to a huge red-zone stand by the defense, preserving a 19-14 victory over Houston that kept the Knights undefeated in the American Athletic Conference.


UCF now merely has to win out against the quartet of Temple, Rutgers, USF and SMU. Of those four teams, only Rutgers has a winning record. The final gantlet begins against Temple (1-8) this coming Saturday in Philadelphia.

The victory over Houston gives UCF some serious momentum heading into the final stretch. It also elevated the Knights to 15th in The Associated Press Top 25, 19th in the coaches' poll and 17th in the BCS standings. All three rankings in those respective polls are program highs.

The win over Houston marked UCF's fourth victory this season decided by seven or fewer points. It came down to the final few seconds, when the Cougars gave themselves a first-and-goal with less than a minute remaining, only to have UCF keep Houston out of the end zone on a stand capped by Brandon Alexander's pass break up with just 14 seconds to go in the game.

"I've been around football a long time and it doesn't get any closer than that," UCF head coach George O'Leary said during his postgame news conference. "We made the play on defense. The coverage was good. I thought the kids hung in there and did what they had to do at the end to win the game."

In the process, UCF enjoyed a fantastic defensive performance against one of the most potent attacks in the FBS. Houston came into the game averaging 41.1 points and 483.1 yards per game. UCF limited Houston to 367 yards, more than 100 yards below its average, and held the Cougars scoreless in the first half.

Down the stretch, you can expect UCF fans to be rooting for Fresno State as well as the Knights. Fresno State currently is ahead of UCF in the BCS standings thanks to a 9-0 start that's included wins over Rutgers and Boise State, among others. If Fresno can retain that status, it would put both the Bulldogs and The American's automatic qualifier in the BCS at season's end, and send UCF most likely to the Sugar Bowl rather than the Fiesta.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

--Sophomore WR Breshad Perriman was taken off the field on a stretcher in the second quarter of UCF's eventual 19-14 win over Houston, after he took a wicked hit from Cougars DB Zack McMillian that had McMillian flagged for targeting and ejected. Perriman, who was diagnosed with a concussion but otherwise is in good condition, left the field on a stretcher to a standing ovation from a rowdy crowd at Orlando's Bright House Networks Stadium.

--Junior DB Brandon Alexander, a preferred walk-on, was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week after his performance against Houston. Alexander made seven tackles, broke up two passes including one on Houston's final offensive play to preserve the win, and picked off an interception.

--UCF junior PK Shawn Moffitt was named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, given annually to the top kicker in the nation. Moffitt is perfect on field-goal attempts through his first nine tries, including a career long of 50 yards, and he's gone 28-of-28 on extra-point tries thus far this season. Moffitt ranks third on UCF's school record book for best field-goal percentage (.743), making 26 of 35 kicks. Michael Torres' .771 mark leads the way, as he made 37 of 48 attempts.

SERIES HISTORY: This is the first meeting on the gridiron between UCF and Temple.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It wasn't helmet-to-helmet, he left his feet, and to me I always teach you've got to keep an eye on the ball. If you've got an eye on the ball you're not going to get hit with that stuff. He left his feet and launched in the air. I thought it was a good call to me."-- O'Leary on the targeting call referees made on the play where Perriman was injured.

GAME BREAKDOWN

Scouting the run offense: RB Storm Johnson posted his third 100-yard rushing performance of the season in UCF's 19-14 win over Houston, running for a career-high 127 yards. Freshman Will Stanback continues to come into his own, posting a personal-best 74 yards against Houston to give him 316 on the season with five rushing touchdowns.

Scouting the pass offense: QB Blake Bortles has thrown six of his 15 touchdown passes this season on third down. Bortles also has distributed the ball well, as seven different players have led the Knights in receptions through their first eight games.

Scouting the run defense: Temple is averaging 150.9 yards per game on the ground, less than half of its total average output. UCF has held six of eight opponents under 150 yards rushing, including Houston, which gained 136 yards on the ground last week.

Scouting the pass defense: UCF's roster boasts three of the top seven in passes defended in the American Athletic Conference: Jacoby Glenn, Clayton Geathers and Terrance Plummer. Keep an eye on DL E.J. Dunston, who had two sacks and a key pass breakup against Houston.

Scouting the special teams: Temple ranks sixth in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision in net punting. One curious factoid? UCF has received the opening kickoff in 14 consecutive games, the second-longest active streak among all FBS teams.

ROSTER REPORT

--The team voted senior WR Jeff Godfrey and senior OL Jordan McCray and Justin McCray permanent team captains during the bye week that preceded the Houston home game.

--Sophomore DE Miles Pace did not play against Houston after a bout of appendicitis.

--Junior QB Blake Bortles' 164.06 passer rating ranks second on the program's single-season list behind Daunte Culpepper, who posted a 170.24 QB rating during the 1998 season.





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