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November 19, 2013

UCF finding ways to win

If this season ends the way UCF's team and fans hope, they'll be pointing to the spectacular catch by J.J. Worton as a pivotal moment.

Make no mistake, even if UCF was 1-8 at this juncture in the season and not 8-1 as it actually stands, Worton's improbable, spectacular diving one-handed grab in the end zone in last week's game against Temple probably would be in the running for an ESPY next summer. It proved especially significant because it kept the Knights on course to achieve their goals.


Specifically, UCF remains the only undefeated team in the American Athletic Conference standings after its dramatic come-from-behind 39-36 win over Temple.

The close call against Temple does create some cause for concern. UCF did drop from 15th to 17th in the major polls, increasing the chance that the Knights might end up getting supplanted by both Cincinnati and Louisville if UCF stumbles in one of its final three games against Rutgers, SMU or USF.

For now, the focus has to remain on Rutgers in what was considered one of a few true "toss-up" games for UCF heading into the season. The Knights have won two of those type of games, besting Penn State and Louisville, and lost the other one at the hands of South Carolina. All those games have been close, but UCF has thrived in nail-biters, posting a 5-1 record thus far in 2013 in games decided by seven points or less. Even the one defeat at the hands of South Carolina was decided by only a field goal.

It's a major contrast from the 2011 UCF squad, which entered the season with high expectations and anointed to run away with the Conference USA crown, only to lose six games decided by seven or fewer points en route to staying home for bowl season.

Instead, winning close games has UCF enjoying an 8-1 record for the first time in team history. If the Knights can continue to take care of business, they'll tie the 2010 team for the most wins ever recorded by a UCF team (11). They'll also be rewarded by becoming the first AAC football champions and earning a BCS bowl bid.

Entering the home stretch of the 2013 season, the only Football Bowl Subdivision program in the Sunshine State with more to play for is Florida State, which remains on track for a berth in the BCS championship game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

--QB Blake Bortles has enjoyed a fantastic season and added to it in last week's 39-36 win over Temple by throwing for a career-high 404 yards and tying another personal best with four touchdown passes. Bortles, a redshirt junior, now sits fourth in UCF history in career touchdown passes (50) and passing yards (6,501), and his 168.6 passer rating ranks seventh among all Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks.

--WR J.J. Worton was named the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week after his explosive 10-catch, 179-yard performance against Temple that included a spectacular one-handed leaping grab for a touchdown. Worton set a career high for receiving yards in a single game, and topped the century mark in yardage for the third time this season.

--Redshirt freshman CB Jacoby Glenn should return for this week's game against Rutgers, a huge boost to a defense that's been depleted by injuries. Glenn sat out against Temple to nurse a nagging ankle problem, but has two interceptions and 10 additional pass break-ups on his personal stat sheet.

SERIES HISTORY: Rutgers won the lone prior meeting with UCF, 45-24 decision in the 2009 St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field. This game is being played on a Thursday night, and UCF is 5-3 all-time in games played on that night of the week.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I told the players, if you go to church tomorrow make sure you're in the front pew. Somebody is looking out for them. Those games don't usually happen like that. ... That's why you never, never, never give up. That's the resilience of the team." -- UCF coach George O'Leary to reporters after the Temple game.

GAME BREAKDOWN

Scouting the run offense: RB Storm Johnson has gone for at least 100 yards rushing in the past two games and done so four times in 10 contests this year. UCF ran for 253 yards in its 39-36 win over Temple, with QB Blake Bortles accounting for 63 of them.

Scouting the pass offense: UCF's receiving corps has combined for nine 100-yard performances this season, the most since the 2005 season. Rannell Hall has made a reception in 24 straight games, and Jeff Godfrey has a streak of 23 straight games with a catch.

Scouting the run defense: Pass rush has been an issue due to injuries and departures but UCF's front rose to the occasion on Temple's final possession when Thomas Niles and Deondre Barnett registered sacks on consecutive snaps. Two freshmen and a junior transfer were among those on the defensive line for UCF during the pivotal fourth quarter, and numbered among five members of the 2013 signing class who were part of the defensive unit in the fourth period.

Scouting the pass defense: Temple gashed UCF for 382 passing yards, the most allowed thus far this season by the Knights. DB Brandon Alexander recorded an interception for the second-consecutive contest and tallied the third pick of his career.

Scouting the special teams: Lou Groza Award semifinalist Shawn Moffitt booted his first game-winning field goal at the collegiate level at Temple's expense, and improved to 14-for-15 on field goals and 33-of-33 on extra points. Punter Caleb Houston remains reliable, averaging 43.4 yards per punt.

ROSTER REPORT

--True freshman CB Shaquill Griffin made his first career start against Temple.

--Freshman DE Seyvon Lowry (lower leg) is out this week against Rutgers.

--CB Jacoby Glenn (ankle) and WR Breshad Perriman (concussion), who were held out against Temple to rest their respective injuries, should be available against Rutgers.

--DE Miles Pace (appendectomy) also is expected back on the active list.





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