BONANNO: UCF Concludes Very Good, But Not-Quite-Great Season With Bowl Victory Over Marshall
By Space Coast Daily // December 23, 2019
UCF NOTCHES 48-25 win over Marshall
SPACE COAST DAILY TV: Space Coast Daily’s Chris Bonanno is live at Raymond James Stadium as UCF gets set to take on Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl.
TAMPA, FLORIDA – UCF’s 48-25 win over Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl gave the Knights a pretty good win to cap off a pretty good season.
But pretty good very easily could have been great.
The Knights were dominant on both sides of the ball against the Thundering Herd at varying times in the contest.
The UCF defense owned the first half of this game. Before UCF even touched the ball on offense as Richie Grant’s early 39-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the black and gold a lead they would never relinquish.
A subsequent forced fumble and recovery by the Knight defense on Marshall’s next possession only seemed to further drive home that point as did the fact that the Thundering Herd put no offensive points on the board for the first half as the Knights forced four turnovers in total for the half.
While the UCF offense perhaps wasn’t perhaps as dominant as it’s accustomed to in the first half (and in saying that it should be noted they amassed 254 total yards in the half), they were highly effective in the rout overall, particularly in the second half as the Knights scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to effectively end any doubt as to the game’s outcome.
Even the Knight special teams were excellent, with Merritt Island alum Dylan Barnas going 2-for-2 on field goals and 6-for-6 on extra points in the contest.
But as good as the performance was, there are questions that a win like this and others prompts. Namely, how does a team this talented lose to a 4-8 Tulsa squad? How can a UCF team that throttled a traditional power in Stanford, dismantled the Conference USA champions in Florida Atlantic and blew out an 8-4 Temple squad on the road be looked at as having at least a mildly disappointing season?
If you watched all of the top Group of Five teams play throughout this year, you’d come to a quick conclusion that UCF is not only the most talented Group of Five team in the country but the team you’d least want to face if you were a Power Five opponent (Boise State’s performance against Washington in Las Vegas helps to further this claim).
Now, it is a credit to UCF head coach Josh Heupel and his staff along with UCF’s players, who showed character in coming out and performing so well in a bowl game, held before Christmas in a stadium that was maybe a third full with rain falling at times, that was not where they hoped to end up before the season.
It’s also true that the Knights lost their three games on the season by a combined seven points and that the loss in particular at Cincinnati is nothing to be too down about. Heck, even Pittsburgh went 7-5 in a power conference.
“We know that we’re three plays away, one play in three different that could have changed where we were playing at the end of the year,” Heupel noted.
And at the end of the day, that, and UCF’s impressive array of talent, is what makes the season and bowl just a bit bittersweet despite an impressive 10-3 record.
To that end, Heupel may have summed things up best: “You look at this season, there’s goals that we didn’t accomplish right? But I hope we never get to the point as a program or a fan base where our fans and outside voices aren’t really appreciative of what our kids do every single day. It’s tough in college football to go win ten (games in a season).”
That there was that feeling is a testament to how impressive UCF’s has been and how high the standards are and it’s certainly the mark of an outstanding football program.
The Knights will have a long while to answer internal questions before they get a premier opportunity on a national stage to open the 2020 season when they host an improving Power Five team in North Carolina. They’ll also travel to Georgia Tech two weeks later, so the opportunities for the Knights to impress early next season will be there.
Until then, they’ll be left to savor a big bowl win and a ten-win season that is slightly tinged with lament.
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