Can all of Knight nation rebound?
Hello, Knight Nation. How are we doing? Any better? Hopefully not any worse after Saturday.
I’m sure at this point, you, like me, are making your way through the various stages of grief after UCF’s second-half meltdown that led to a 36-35 loss to Baylor, on Saturday evening. What should have been a (K)night to remember, instead became a ‘Knightmare’ as UCF squandered a 28-point lead in their first Big 12 Conference game, inside the Bounce House.
UCF jumped out to an early and easy lead after several big plays, including a 79-yard run by running back Johnny Richardson on the Knight’s first offensive drive of the game. This led to a comfortable lead by the middle of the third quarter. From there, the Knights continually found ways to shoot themselves in the foot, allowing 29 unanswered points, and letting the Bears from Waco leave Orlando with a 1-point victory. UCF is now 0-2 in conference play.
There is plenty of blame to go around. Questionable calls from the referees (who seemingly couldn’t call a single penalty without a long, fireside chat conference each time a flag was thrown), head-scratching game and clock management by the UCF coaching staff, and poorly executed plays by the offense, defense, and special teams, were all on display. I’m looking directly at you, botched ‘Wild Knight’ snap that led to a fumble, which then led to a scoop-and-score by Baylor…
Let’s stop it right here for a reality check. Now, I love a good true crime podcast or documentary. I’m a history buff. I also happen to be a huge aviation nerd (just hang with me for a second). They say that disasters are never the result of only ONE thing. They are always the result of MANY small events and problems that combine into the perfect storm. You can think of this UCF football game as an airline crash or some other disaster.
If you look at any one aspect of Saturday’s game, solely on its own, none should have caused the Knights to lose. But when you combine all of them together, you have the ingredients for disaster. For example, does the referee calling an illegal formation on a play that Gus claims to have run since his high school coaching days cause the Knights to lose? No. But combine that with two very untimely turnovers, complacency, a tired defense, a crowd that got bored with a game they thought was over at halftime, Baylor bringing their QB1 back from injury, UCF playing without their QB1, and a couple of missed UCF field goals, and well ladies and gentlemen, you have the ingredients for an unmitigated disaster on the field.
Okay, now that we understand what happened and why, let’s talk about what comes next. This 2023 Knights squad is now facing a fork in the road. We’ve reached a pivotal point in this season (probably earlier than some would have expected or liked) where the team and fans now decide to either rally or crumble. Knight Nation can collectively look itself in the mirror and move forward or we can let this break the spirit of the season and limp along until December. It’s not the first time UCF has been in this situation and it certainly won’t be the last. This is how the sport works, folks. “Iron sharpens iron” is a silly metaphor, but it fits in college football. I have faith that Gus and crew will right the ship and we’ll see some changes moving forward. This type of defining moment for a team helps it to build character.
Alec Holler spoke to the media after the game, and while he was hiding it well at the podium, he was mad. Mad about the way the game ended. Mad about mental errors and poor execution from the team. Mad about it all, just like most of us fans. He made no excuses. That’s exactly what I want to hear from a leader in the locker room. Do yourself a favor and if you haven’t heard his comments, go take five minutes and listen:
So what does it all mean? Truthfully, this loss hurts and we’ll remember it for a long time, but in the grand scheme, it doesn’t really matter. MOST of us, who didn’t have delusions of grandeur, understood that 6-6 or 7-5 was the most likely outcome for the Knights in this inaugural Big 12 season. Realistically, anything beyond that was a pipe dream. Don’t believe me? Look where we’re at! Tied for last place in the conference along with our fellow former AAC cousins, Cincinnati and Houston – notice a pattern, yet? The good news is that UCF can still make a postseason appearance. Pop Tarts anyone?
We all need to remember that this is BIG BOY FOOTBALL, now. We aren’t playing in the American Athletic Conference or C-USA, anymore. This is the Big 12! It’s “power” football. K-State, Baylor, and others all have good players on scholarships, too! All of our conference mates have been playing football longer than our university has been conferring degrees. Wins will be EARNED, not given. If there is a better example of that than the game we watched this weekend, I haven’t seen it, yet. UCF didn’t earn the win. Baylor did. Plain and simple.
We begged and pleaded for UCF to be in the big leagues. With that comes harder games. Gus said at the start of the season that the team was going to have to find ways to win “close games.” It doesn’t get much closer than a 1-point game. UCF was just on the wrong side when the clock read 0:00.
So be angry, point your fingers, think that you know better than the coaches (you don’t), yell at the students and say it was their fault (it wasn’t), and get it all out of your system. We have a good team. I’m convinced, after these last two games, that UCF has the talent and ability to hang with any team in this conference. Oh, and it’s only year 1 in the P5. We’re going to get better year-after-year. It’s not very often that teams make the “jump” up like UCF has done. When they do, it takes time for them to acclimate. The Knights still need to build a power roster with depth, but it’s coming. Our coaching salaries need to catch up and they will. Our facilities need to be brought up to this new level of competition and there are plans to do so. All of which takes time. We’ve been living a ramen noodles lifestyle, while our contemporaries have been eating filet mignon. Give us some time to cook, too, now that we’re at the table.
So, let’s dust ourselves off, act like we belong, and move on to the next game.