Rutgers Too Much For UCF In St. Pete Bowl
Although those clad in black-and-gold filled nearly 20,000 of the 29,763 announced attendance, it was a sea-of-red that outnumbered Tropicana Field with seven minutes remaining in the second edition of the St. Petersburg Bowl.
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-4) won their fourth-consecutive bowl game in six trips with a 45-24 victory over the UCF Knights (8-5). For the Knights, it was their third time going bowling and the third time they could not pick up the program’s first bowl win.
"I have to give a lot of credit to Rutgers,” said UCF head coach George O’Leary in a media release. “They played exceptionally well. Offensively we didn't get on track all day. You can't give a team 14 points and that's what we did in the first quarter.
“But, again, I have to give Rutgers credit. In the second half I didn't think our offense did anything at all to move the ball. I thought we hurt ourselves in a lot of situations."
On the opening kickoff UCF freshman wide receiver Quincy McDuffie returned the ball 65 yards to the Rutgers 31-yard line, setting the Knights with great field position. Three plays later fifth-year senior quarterback Brett Hodges turned the ball over on an interception to Damaso Munoz.
Rutgers entered the bowl game with a plus 20-turnover ratio. On the ensuing drive the Scarlet Knights hit pay dirt on a Mohamed Sanu 5 yard run. Two Hodges interceptions resulted in 14 points for Rutgers.
The Knights had a bounce of fortune their way when Sanu fumbled a punt return, which was recovered by freshman defensive back Kemal Ishmael at the Rutgers 9-yard line.
Hodges connected with junior wide receiver Kamar Aiken, streaking across into the end zone on a 7-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at seven-a-piece. The score was the first of two times Hodges and Aiken would connect on the night. Aiken was named UCF’s Most Outstanding Player of the game with 65 yards on four receptions and two touchdowns.
The Knights defense would give up a quick score on a 65-yard touchdown pass from Tom Savage to Tim Brown, giving the Scarlet Knights a 14-7 lead before the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter sparked back-and-forth scoring. Rutgers added a pair of touchdowns and UCF scored a field goal and a touchdown, which included a 34-yard pass from Hodges to Aiken. Hodges finished the night 13-of-28 with 175 yards two touchdowns and two interceptions. At the half it was 28-17 in favor Rutgers.
The Rutgers defense limited UCF to one score in the second half, a late touchdown from freshman running back Jonathan Davis with 2:23 remaining in the game. The Knights were outscored 17-7. Sanu caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Savage early in the third quarter to extend their lead to 35-17. Sanu provided Rutgers with three touchdowns in the game.
Savage was 14-of-27 for 294 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Both Brown and Sanu recorded a touchdown and each had four receptions for over 90 yards.
The UCF ground game was limited to 35 yards. Sophomore running back Brynn Harvey rushed for 32 yards on 13 carries. Hodges was pressured all game long, with Rutgers picking up six sacks. Late in the fourth quarter he was sidelined following a hard tackle and would not return.
Defensively for the Knights, junior Bruce Miller led the team with eight total tackles, followed by Ishmael, who added an interception to his six tackles. Miller was named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, the first Knight to win that honor.
"We played hard, but early on in the first half we gave up too many plays,” said Miller in a press release. “You can't do this against a team like this, and that caliber of a team. We came out in the second half and fought hard but I think we waited a little too late."
The Knights added the team’s third bowl game appearance, all under O’Leary in his sixth season. In 2005 UCF played in its first ever bowl game, losing 49-48 to Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl. They played in the Liberty Bowl in 2007, losing 10-3 to Mississippi State.
After losing their first two conference games to Southern Miss and East Carolina, the Knights reeled off six-consecutive wins to finish 6-2 in Conference USA.
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