The 2023 Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl is in the books as the UCF Knights fell to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 30-17. This was UCF’s sixth time playing in a bowl game in the Tampa Bay area and the first time they lost in Raymond James Stadium since 2016. It’s Knee-Jerk Reaction time.
The Battle of O’Leary
While calling it the O’Leary Bowl is easy, calling it the Battle of O’Leary sounds more epic. UCF and Georgia Tech have played each other six times. The first three were in UCF’s early years as an FBS member. The last three times have been since O’Leary retired from coaching in 2015. He coached GT from 1995-2001 and UCF from 2004-2015. The Knights won in 2020 and 2022. During the coinflip, O’Leary was present but was standing on the Tech side. A foreshadowing of the game to come? Adding to the intrigue was GT head coach Brent Key, a former Yellow Jacket player under George O’Leary and long-time UCF assistant coach until his exit in 2023. When O’Leary stepped down as head coach in 2015, Key’s contract was designed as he was supposedly the coach-in-waiting. UCF ended up paying Key $700k to not coach at UCF. There’s some extra motivation right there.
John Rhys Plumlee’s Swan Song
With this being his last game as a Knights, quarterback John Rhys Plumlee did his best to audition for the NFL. He opened the game 9/9 for 134 yards and two touchdowns before his first incomplete pass. There were missed opportunities for more. Tylan Grable missed a block that would have sprung Plumlee loose for a big run. On the same drive, Kobe Hudson dropped an easy touchdown pass to force UCF to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Colton Boomer. To end the first half, UCF opted to try for a 30-yard field goal by Boomer on third down with 0:08 left, which was missed.
The second half did not start well for UCF. The Knights worked their way down the field before a holding on Marcellus Marshall on 4th and 1 negated a first down. Plumlee wouldn’t be able to convert the 4th and 11 play and gave the ball back to the Yellow Jackets. It never really got better. Plumlee hurt his leg near the end of the game and backup Timmy McClain stepped in and he had a big play. Ultimately, the Knights were scoreless in the second half while the Yellow Jackets scored 27 unanswered points.
Plumlee’s x-factor has always been his ability to run and he used it wisely. He aimed for the sidelines instead of trying to turn upfield for an extra yard. When talking about leaving the game with a hurt leg, he “felt something uncomfortable there and so I felt I had to come out of the game. I felt that I was not at my 100% best and it was not fair to the team if I was out there not at my best.”
It is not known if Plumlee will play baseball this year or focus squarely on football. That should become known in the next few weeks.
The Defense is…Something
The defense is something and it isn’t good. As expected, both UCF and Georgia Tech have two of the worst rushing defenses in the country. While the defense held the Yellow Jackets in check early on, Haynes King and Jamal King were able to break into the second level of the defense and keep the ball moving.
The defense showed a little life when Demari Henderson had the play of the game where he rolled over a receiver and ripped the ball out of his hands. Despite the turnover, the defense was prone to giving up chunk yardage on the ground and a horsecollar tackle penalty on Tre’Mon Morris-Brash helped Georgia Tech continue their drive, which ultimately led to a Yellow Jackets touchdown.
Georgia Tech sold completely on the run in the second half, rushing 35 times for 170 yards and only throwing two passes. UCF’s season-long inability to stop the run bit them hard as the Yellow Jackets were able to hold on to the ball for a whopping 19:30. Overall, GT ran it 53 times for 284 yards.
UCF has a Kicking Problem Again
Going into this year and early on, fans thought the kicking situation had stabilized with kicker Colton Boomer. It turns out that wasn’t the fact. In the second half of the season, Boomer’s reliability as a kicker took a nosedive and it played a role in the bowl game. Boomer hit two extra points and a 27-yard field goal in the first half. He missed from 30 yards as the first half ended, prompting UCF head coach Gus Malzahn to not go to him in the second half.
With the season over, it’s on to 2024. UCF completed their early National Signing Day earlier this week, bringing in 18 players, including 8 blue chip players. This is by far the best recruiting class in UCF history and depending on where you looked, rated second or third best in the conference. The Knights are still working on the transfer portal. With the recent ruling that will allow players to have more than one free transfer, there could potentially be some roster changes, both in and out. So far, the Knights have not been hit hard by portal transfers out with defensive back Corey Thornton to Louisville being the only major loss. We should learn more about how the roster will come together for spring ball over the next couple of months.
UCF went with their gold helmet with white inverse block UCF along with their normal black home jersey and Knightmode black pants. Last year, this combination wouldn’t work, but with the Knights changing the shade of gold from metallic to more of bright gold, they make the accents match. I like this combination. The stars on the pants are forgettable enough, they’re interchangeable between the white and gold star black pants. UCF wore gold helmets for the first three years of coach George O’Leary’s tenure from 2004-06.
Guess who’s back?
Guess who’s back
Tell a friend
After taking a redshirt and being on the shelf in 2023, the KJR makes its return under the Sons of UCF banner. I’m thrilled I was able to be back in the press box to write to you about UCF football. It was not anticipated when the season started, but I also did not anticipate my affiliation to change. We’ll see where 2024 takes us, but I’m genuinely thrilled you clicked here.
UCF: John Rhys Plumlee: 16/29 for 198 yards, 2 TD, 0 Int
GT: Haynes King: 7/13 for 87 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int
UCF: R.J. Harvey: 15 carries for 120 yards, 0 TD
GT: Jamal Haynes: 18 carries for 128 yards, 0 TD
UCF: Javon Baker: 9 catches for 173 yards, 1 TD
GT: Malik Rutherford: 2 catches for 40 yards, 1 TD
- Georgia Tech leads the series 4-2.
- UCF’s 98-yard scoring drive in the first quarter is the longest drive in bowl history.
- The announced crowd of 30-281 is the third most in bowl history. The bowl has broken 30k in each of the last three seasons.
- UCF has played in a bowl-leading six times in the game’s history.
- UCF’s record in the St. Petersburg/Gasparilla Bowl is now 3-3
- WR Javon Baker’s 173 receiving yards is a bowl record.
- UCF’s opening drive was the first time a touchdown was scored in the opening drive since UCF did it in the 2012 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl(yes, it’s the same continuous bowl game).
- Sorry, it’s not my best, but the KJR redshirted this season.