The 2010 season is rapidly approaching, but I thought it would be fun to take a quick look back at the most important plays of UCF's 2009 football season.
The Knights (8-5, 6-2 last season) got off to a rocky start in Conference USA play, but ended the year with six consecutive league victories, including a win over No. 13 Houston, earning their way to a berth in the St. Petersburg Bowl against Rutgers.
Unfortunately, I only had video access to a few games to review. The touchdown receptions by A.J. Guyton and Kamar Aiken in the Rice game (which wasn't televised) and the Josh Robinson interception in the Texas game would consist of plays Nos. 8, 9 and 10 in this Top 10, but are not reviewed in-depth as a result.
7. Kamar Aiken 34 yard TD reception against Rutgers
While the Knights would go on to lose this game, the touchdown pass from Brett Hodges to Aiken put UCF back in the game after Rutgers had taken the momentum from UCF late in the first half.
Setup: Rutgers was leading UCF 21 to 10 with 5:50 left in the second quarter, a one yard run by Rutgers WR Mohamed Sanu. UCF advanced the ball to the Rutgers 34 yard line after a clutch 11 yard reception by TE Ricky Kay, 12 yards on the ground on three rushes by Brynn Harvey, and a 19 yard catch by senior WR Rocky Ross.
The play: First and 10 at the Rutgers 34 yard line, UCF lined up with a three WR, one TE, one RB set. Rutgers lined up in a nickel formation, with four down linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs. Hodges ran a play action to Harvey to the left, just as Rutgers blitzed an OLB and CB into the play action from the left, Hodges turned to face the left side of the field. As the blitz was picked up by LT Nick Pieschel and Harvey, Hodges then set up and opened to the right side of the field and lofted a pass towards single covered Kamar Aiken.
Aiken, with a little bit of a push off of disoriented Rutgers cornerback David Rowe and too late safety help by Joe Leferged over the top due to the play action by Hodges, ran right under the perfectly thrown ball four yards deep into the end zone, pulling in the pass waist high with both hands. After tumbling into the UCF band gathered on the field to perform for halftime, Aiken celebrated with teammates as he pointed to the jubilant UCF faithful in the end zone.
Importance: In the game, this play put life back in the UCF squad. UCF's defense stopped the Rutgers' offense to force a punt late in the first half, but an questionable interception return for a touchdown for Rutgers would put the Scarlet Knights up permanently for the rest of the game.
This play, along with the 7 yard TD catch in the first quarter, showcased the play making ability of Kamar Aiken, who will be counted on to lead the receiving corps in the 2010 campaign.
6. Brynn Harvey 50 Yard TD run against Tulane
Setup: After beating a ranked team for the first time the previous week against Houston, the Knights were riding high on emotion coming into Senior Day against the hapless Tulane Green Wave (3-7, 1-5 going into the game).
The play: On third and one at the 50 yard line, the Knights lined up with two tight ends on the right, Rocky Ross split out on the left, with a fullback and tailback in the I formation behind Hodges. TE Ricky Kay was motioned towards Hodges, then came back towards the right, stopping behind TE Adam Nissley. Hodges snapped the ball, and LG Cliff McCray pulled behind center Ian Bustillo to lead Harvey through the right side of the line. RG Theo Goins stepped ahead to block the left Tulane defensive tackle, as RT Jah Reid pulled ahead to seal off the left outside linebacker. As the middle and right outside linebackers were sucked into the blocking, this left a gap between the backers. The only defender between the goal line and Harvey was the free safety Wacha, but he didn't locate Harvey until too late, and slipped trying to change directions. Brynn would score easily, much like a play in the Houston game a week earlier.
Importance: Striking early in the game would put UCF in the lead early, and the game was never in doubt. This is in contrast to the first six homes games of the year where UCF fell behind the opponent in every game.
5. Quincy McDuffie kickoff return for touchdown against Samford
The true freshman out of Edgewater High School in Orlando would make several long kickoff returns during the 2009 campaign, but the opening kickoff return of the second half against Samford would be the only that resulted in a touchdown.
Setup: In the opening game of the 2009 season, UCF's first half had been unimpressive at the best. The score was tied at 7 with FCS opponent Samford, had 132 yards of total offense (compared to Samford's 118), and one turnover. Brynn Harvey's one yard touchdown run with 57 seconds remaining in the first half knotted up the score going into halftime.
The play: McDuffie fielded the kickoff on the right sideline at the UCF 5 yard line, and followed fellow deep man Darin Baldwin towards the center of the field. At the right hash mark, the UCF blockers opened a massive hole, which McDuffie turned into. McDuffie broke a half hearted ankle tackle at the UCF 35, as Baldwin ran interference on the Samford kicker, Yaw Cameron, 5 yards ahead. McDuffie accelerated as Baldwin branched out to stalk block Alex Barnett, the last Bulldog with a chance of catching McDuffie. Baldwin, with McDuffie even with him by now, threw his shoulder into the Barnett, and McDuffie flipped the football in celebration of his first collegiate touchdown in his very first game.
Importance: The McDuffie kickoff return would ultimately be the deciding score in the 28-24 victory for the Knights. McDuffie and Baldwin's combined 190 kickoff return yards (Darin Baldwin also had a 72 yard return also in the third quarter) established the UCF kickoff return game as one of the tops in the nation, and one that had to be game planned by future opponents in 2009.
4. Justin Boddie interception against Houston
Setup: After the McDuffie touchdown reception, the Knight defense really started to flex their muscles. On first down and 10, receiver Tyron Carrier dropped an easy screen pass. On second down and 10, Case Keenum was flushed out of the pocket by defensive ends Darius Nall and Bruce Miller, and threw an ill advised pass that was was dropped by defensive back Josh Robinson.
The play: On third and 10 from the Houston 21, the Cougars lined up in shotgun formation, with three wide outs to Keenum's right, and one to the left, and running back Charles Sims next to Keenum. UCF countered with a nickel formation, and showed zone coverage once the ball was snapped. Keenum's first read, the WR to the left, was covered so he progressed to his second read, WR James Cleveland running a ten yard drag across the field towards the left sideline. Keenum stared down Cleveland a little too long on that second read, and tried to float the pass over the underneath zone coverage.. The pass was deflected by linebacker Lawrence Young, just as Boddie jumped the route to snag the ill advised pass. Boddie advanced the interception to the Houston seven yard line before he was tackled.
Importance: On the very next play from scrimmage, Brynn Harvey scored on a seven yard run, which ultimately put the game out of reach for even the quick scoring Houston offense. UCF would defeat Houston 37-32, notching the first victory over a ranked opponent in since moving up to the FBS level in 1997.
3. Quincy McDuffie TD reception against Houston
Setup: UCF took the lead against the 13th ranked Houston Cougars in the third quarter on a 41 yard touchdown run by Brynn Harvey, 23-17. Houston responded by driving down deep into UCF territory, but had to settle for an early fourth quarter field goal.
The Knight ran a similarr pattern with McDuffie in the late third quarter, with him running a skinny postin betweenn three defenders. Hodges' pass was a little too strong, and was intercepted by one of the safeties over top.
The play: On third and 11 from the Houston 24 yard line, UCF lined up in shotgun formation with 3 wide receivers on the right (McDuffie, Guyton, Watters), one split on the left (Aiken), and Harvey in the backfield next to Hodges. Houston lined up in Nickel. At the snap, Houston is in a cover two man, with the safeties each covering half of the field, and the five underneath defenders in man coverage against each of the eligible UCF receivers. Guyton ran a five-yard hook pattern, Watters ran a 15-yard square in and Aiken running a fade route down the left sideline. McDuffie ran a skinny post and got behind his defender, linebacker Marcus McGraw. Hodges primary target was Watters, running the square in, who was coming open. Hodges, however, went with McDuffie who was open by the slimmest of margins. Hodges put a touch pass right over the linebacker, and in front of the two safeties. McDuffie had to use all of his 5-foot-11 frame jumping and pirouetting to snag the ball out of the air between the three defenders.
Importance: The spectacular score put UCF up by 10 points with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter and was McDuffie's first touchdown on offense. It capped off his biggest game as a wide receiver with four receptions totally 77 yards and one touchdown.
2. Bruce Miller's forced fumble against Marshall
You could argue very easily that this was the most important play of the season for the Knights. UCF had just failed to convert a fourth down deep in Marshall territory, late in the fourth quarter against conference rival Marshall. While UCF's chances of winning the East division were slim with a win, a loss would instantly knock them out of contention with 3 conference losses, and would put the post season bowl game picture in doubt.
Setup: UCF trailed Marshall 20-7 until Harvey cut the lead to 6 with a touchdown in the mid fourth quarter. UCF would get the ball back, but failed to convert a fourth and nine at the 18 yard line with 2:40 left in the game. Marshall started to run out the clock, but Herd center Chad Scofield injured his leg, which forced guard Landis Provancha to slide over to the center position.
The play: Second and one, from the Marshall 27 yard line, the Herd line up with three tight ends strong right, one wide receiver to the left, and Darius Marshall alone behind the quarterback Anderson. All three tight ends were on the right side of the formation. Slate and Lee Smith were on the line, and James Hatten off the line in the gap in the H-back position.
UCF lined up in it's base 4-3 defense. cornerback Boddie covering Smith on the outside. Free safety Kemal Ishmael walked up to the strong side over Slate, while strong safety Michael Greco rotated to the center of the field 15 yards off the ball.
The play call for Marshall was a zone blocked run to the left for tailback Darius Marshall. However, there were some problems at the snap of the football. New center Provancha and the quarterback Anderson had a sloppy exchange, which delayed Anderson and tailback Marshall's timing on the hand off. At the same time, UCF defensive tackle Torrell Troup, who lined up in the one technique over the center's left shoulder, blasted Provencha two yards into the backfield, creating a large hole in the line. Anderson, by now too out of position to hand off to Marshall, tucked the ball and ran into the hole left by Troup. He was met in the hole by Bruce Miller, who had initially lined up on the inside shoulder of Slate or in the six-technique.
Second to arrive was Lawrence Young, who went under Miller to tackle Anderson's legs. This allowed Miller to attempt to strip the ball. So as the rest of the Knights held up Anderson, Miller wedged in his hand and arm between Anderson's body and the football, and ripped with the full torque of his body.
The football flew two yards forward of the pile, ricocheted off of a few players, and landed right at the feet of corneback Josh Robinson, who quickly jumped on the ball giving the Knights one more shot to win the game.
Importance: The remarkable play by Miller would give the Knights one last opportunity to beat Marshall. Hodges and the rest of the offense would not disappoint, leading to a dramatic finish.
1. Rocky Ross TD reception against Marshall
Setup: UCF and Marshall came into the nationally televised game with both needing a win to keep up with ECU, who was leading the east division of Conference USA. Marshall held the lead for all of the game, and the score stood at 20-7 before Brynn Harvy cut the lead to 6.
After Miller's forced fumble, Hodges completed a pass to Kamar Aiken on third and ten from the Marshall 20. Aiken broke two tackles and fell just short of the goaline. UCF, with no timeouts remaining, ran up quickly to run the spike play to stop the clock, but Marshall head coach Mark Snyner called a timeout before everyone lined up.
The play: First and goal from the Marshall 1 yard line, 26 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Knights broke the huddle and lined up in a two tightend formation, one each on the outside of the tackles. Guyton was split out to the left, and Ross was split out to the right, and Harvey lined up five yards behind Hodges. Marshall lined up with a base 4-3 defense (4 down linemen, 3 linebackers), with ten players within three yards of the line of scrimmage. Free safety Omar Brown lined up about four yards away.
Let's look at the secondary's assignments a little closer.
Dequan Bembry was initially lined up against Guyton, and Maxwell was matched up over tight end Ricky Kay, on the line of scrimmage. Guyton went in motion from the left to the right side of the formation. Bembry correctly passed off his assigned man, and matched up against Ricky Kay. Strong safety Ashton Hall correctly picked up Guyton as he moved to the other side of the formation, and Brown shifted to what was now the strong side of the formation, but there still was no one matched up against Ross. Brown was pointing to either Hall or Ross as he shifted, but no one seems to have responded to him.
Hodges snapped the ball as Guyton passed Nissley. Guyton ran into the flats, and Ross ran a modified flag route to the corner of the end zone, with no one within four yards of him. Hodges rolled out to his right and smartly put a little air under the ball for Ross to easily snag the ball over his shoulder for his eighth and final touchdown reception as a Knight.
Importance: Losing this game would have put UCF's bowl hopes in serious doubt as the team faced two strong ranked teams from Texas, the Longhorns and the Houston Cougars. It was also arguably the game that got the Marshall head coach, Mark Snyder, fired.
This play is easily one of the biggest in UCF history, ranking up with the Javier Beorlegui field goal to beat Alabama in 2000 and Kevin Smith's 80 yard touchdown run to open the 2007 season against NC State.