By Alex Barrett
The rain stayed away in Memphis just long enough for the Knights to put the finishing touches on the Bulldogs in the Autozone Liberty Bowl.
It was a defensive battle from the second play of the game, right after the opening UCF kickoff return for a touchdown was called back on a hold. It would take until 9:00 left in the fourth quarter for either team to score another one.
UCF was elated it was them.
"It was a big relief" (scoring the only touchdown of the game,) said UCF sophomore running back Latavius Murray. "I wanted to punch one in. I think the touchdown was a big relief for the team."
The game featured five total turnovers, including four interceptions that could mainly be attributed to the 30-mph winds swirling around the stadium; much of the game was played between the 20s, and punting was a paramount throughout the first half with both teams playing the field position and kicking field goals.
"We really got out there after a talented Georgia team," noted UCF head coach George O'Leary after the game. "We needed our defense to make plays in a close game, and we executed it well tonight."
"We knew it was going to be a tight ball game tonight," added UCF's defensive player of the game, junior linebacker Josh Linam. "We prepared for it. We came out and did our job."
Defense was at a paramount in the second lowest-scoring game in Liberty Bowl history at the half, where the Knights were trailing 6-3.
After the break, the Knights started to wake up.
Behind an energized defensive effort, Georgia's rookie quarterback Aaron Murray was finally subjected to a much more aggressive pass rush, and as a result, began to show his inexperience as the Georgia offense had two straight drives stall in their own territory for the first time in the game.
UCF had their own problems with their rookie quarterback, Jeff Godfrey. On the third play of the game, Godfrey was smashed by Georgia defensive back Justin Houston and was limping noticeably for the duration of the game. With Godfrey banged up, Murray kept rushing.
"I was running with a 40-yard attitude, just like we were coached to do," said Murray. At the end of the game, he hadn't hit that 40-yard home-run rush, but his 10-yard touchdown capped a 104-yard performance that was enough to win him the Liberty Bowl MVP award.
The Knights would have to wait until the last second to celebrate their victory,which came down to the end of the game as Georgia took two shots into the end zone with :10 and :02 left in the contest, including a last-ditch effort to make a play that was batted down in the end zone by UCF. Almost as soon as the game ended, the sky opened up to the rain, a refreshment for the players that had been giving their all on the field.
"All you can do at this point is just congratulate coach O'Leary and UCF, they have certainly earned that tonight," said Georgia coach Mark Richt after the game. "They did a great job, played great defense, made plays offensively, and on special teams. It was outstanding."
Junior flanker A.J. Green, one of the more touted wideouts in the FBS, also admired the Knight defensive effort, adding that "they're a hell of a defense. Their containment was very good, and they had a lot of great schemes to keep me under control."
The win tonight gives the University of Central Florida their first ever bowl victory; they had previously made it to the Liberty Bowl two years ago where they lost another close battle to Mississippi State. Added to the Top-25 ranking at game-time, (which should rise after their victory,) this was a big season of firsts for the Knights, whom are looking to possibly review a Big East Conference offer at the end of the season.
UCF is the second largest school in the nation now and the fastest growing institution in Florida; It only seems fitting that they finally command the best record of all the other prominent universities in Florida, ending with an 11-3 record and beating out Florida, Miami and Florida State.
Godfrey was extremely happy about what this season could possibly do for the future of UCF, both athletically and academically with what has been accomplished.
"It's great to win a conference championship, and a bowl game for the program;" said Godfrey after the game. "A win for the players, the coaches, and the fans. it feels great to be a part of that."