2010 Autozone Liberty Bowl: The Knights Put The Lights Out in Georgia
With the vast array of weaponry at the disposal of both teams in the 2010 Autozone Liberty Bowl, few expected what the windswept crowd witnessed this evening in Memphis.
The game turned out to be a defensive lover's dream, with the only touchdown, a scamper by UCF's Latavius Murray, coming mid-way through the final quarter. Murray finished with over 100 yards rushing on the day.
Final score: Central Florida 10, Georgia 6.
The No. 25 ranked UCF Knights, finishing a record breaking season recording 11 wins and 3 losses, showed the football world that they can play toe-to-toe with a traditional SEC powerhouse school.
While Georgia's season disappointed most Dawg fans, the play of red-shirt freshman Aaron Murray throughout the season promises great things for that rabid fan base in the coming seasons.
Thus, this game was, in many ways, a tale of these two young men who share a last name but whose teams' fates took different turns this blustery day at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
This slide show is a quick recap of today's game.
George O'Leary Proud Fight
Tied with the Bulldogs 3-3 at the half, UCF's George O'Leary faced his team with optimism.
"I told them to keep fighting the fight," O'Leary said after the game, "and the seniors came out and led us in the second half."
O'Leary noted that the win was a great one for those seniors, who have the most wins for a four-year class in the history of the program, and a great win for the program.
The victory was the program's first in a bowl game as well as the first time they won as champions of Conference USA.
"In the first half, we messed up," the coach pointed out, referring to the interceptions his freshman quarterback threw, "but this team has a lot of pride and they pulled it out."
Fans could see the UCF teams' confidence build as the second half wore on.
Field Position Finally Bit The Bulldogs In The Second Half
Before UCF scored the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter, Georgia had steadily been losing the field position battle throughout the second half.
After beginning the half with another field goal, the Bulldogs could not seem to get out of their own end of the field. And as the half wore on, the Knights began believing what their coaches had been telling them--that they could play with these SEC boys.
On consecutive series, Georgia began with the ball on their own 10 yard line. Both series ended in punts. It was after a punt that UCF took the ball on the shortened field and marched to the UGA 10, where Murray ran it in from there.
Again, the weather played a factor in not allowing Georgia's Murray to throw; that also allowed UCF to run blitzes that confused and harassed the young quarterback.
It wasn't much, but it was enough. The game turned on those poor field possession series by Georgia. They got the ball back three times after UCF's touchdown but had to punt two of the three times.
The last time they had the ball, the clock ran out.
UCF's Defense Kept Pace With Georgia's Speed
It was assumed by many that the Knights could not keep up with the Bulldogs when it came to team speed, especially when it came to UCF's defense and UGA's offense.
But they did. And not only did they keep pace, there were times when the Knights took what Georgia had to give and still bounced right back up for more.
Case in point: After three quarters of play, the Knights defense had been on the field 27 of the total 45 minutes played. Yet, that was when they were the stingiest.
It's not like the Knights didn't have the defensive credentials to begin with. UCF came in with C-USA's stingiest defense and 18th best in the nation. Senior defensive end Bruce Miller, who led the team in the game, was selected as the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year for the second-straight season.
True, the weather played a role in limiting both squads, but UCF kept UGA to only 280 yards total offense. That's over a hundred yards shy of the Dawgs' average per game.
Georgia Showed Why The SEC Is Known For Defense
The Dawg D was nothing to sneeze at, either. Considering that Georgia is probably the eighth or ninth best team in the SEC this year, they did well to hold the Conference USA champions to only 10 points.
This is a UCF team that is ranked in the top 25 nationally in rushing per game, as well as one that scored an average of just under 34 points per game.
So holding this team in check speaks volumes about the Georgia defense.
It's too bad the offense had a similar lack of success against UCF's defense.
A Tale Of Two Possessions For Georgia
On its first possession, it seemed Georgia would have its way with the Knights. The Bulldogs took fifteen plays and drove from inside their own five yard line to the UCF 3 where they faced a fourth and short one.
Instead of going for it, coach Mark Richt sent his field goal unit out and made the score 3-0. At the time, it seemed that getting down there again would be easy. But it was not to be.
Woulda coulda shoulda.
On its last possession, with just over two minutes left, UGA drove down the field frantically, trying to get into position to get the ball in the end zone with that fierce wind at their backs.
Two times during the drive, the Bulldogs converted a fourth down, keeping hope alive and making it seem like Aaron Murray could work a Memphis Miracle. That seemed especially true when Murray hit Kris Durham on fourth down for 30 yards to take the Dawgs inside the UCF 30.
But a huge sack by the Knights' Bruce Miller put Georgia so far from the end zone that the final play, a fourth down pass, was not possibly a make-able play but a true Hail Mary/desperation heave that the UCF defense easily knocked down.
That pass attempt came after the previous play was reviewed and it was determined that there should have been two seconds added to the clock.
The Third Defense in Play
Wind that poured and then gusted out of the west most of the evening had as much to do with the low score of the game as the good defense displayed by both teams.
While the gale subsided somewhat at sundown, the wind was still a factor all evening. It made throwing down-field impossible.
That certainly hurt the Bulldogs, who saw their quarterback, Aaron Murray, throw for only 198 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns. That also meant that, for the most part, Georgia's talented receiving corps, led by A. J. Green, was rendered largely inconsequential, tallying only eight catches for 77 yards and no scores.
The weather turned even worse immediately after the game, as the field was cleared due to a strong line of thunderstorms that came through the area.
What You May Not Have Realized Is...
Both teams start freshman quarterbacks (Murray for Georgia and Jeff Godfrey for UCF). Godfrey is eighth in the nation in passing efficiency while Murray is ninth.
Godfrey was selected as C-USA's Freshman of the Year.
All three of UCF's losses were to bowl bound teams (NC State by 7, K-State by 4, Southern Miss by 10).
UCF's George O'Leary had faced Georgia eight times previously and was 3-5 going into this game. His stint at Georgia Tech let him get to know the Bulldogs well.
Georgia earned its 46th bowl berth in school history by coming to Memphis. UCF earned its first bowl win in the program's history.
This loss leaves Georgia below .500 for the first time in 14 years. That, plus the fact that this team has so much talent but produced so little in relation to that talent, has to hurt the fans in Athens something fierce.
UCF began its football program only in 1979, which was the year before UGA won a national championship.
Before today, UCF was 1-13 against the SEC. The lone win was against Alabama in 2000.
What This Loss Means For Georgia Going Into 2011
The biggest question in the minds of most UGA fans pertains to head coach Mark Richt.
Should he stay on as head man in Athens?
For a team that was supposed to contend for the SEC East title this season, finishing 6-7 after this bowl game leaves a sour taste in most Bulldog mouths. Everybody knew Florida would be rebuilding. Tennessee likewise. That left South Carolina, and the early season win over the Bulldogs by the Gamecocks seemed to take the collective wind out of many Georgia sails.
Fingers began pointing at Mark Richt. He addressed that to some extent in his after game comments. "We've got to make (a) change. We've got to make sure it doesn't happen again in the future."
Will he be coach next year? Yes, more than likely. But this loss and this losing season puts even more pressure on him to at least reach the SEC title game next season or else he may find himself looking over the help wanted ads come next January 1st.
Aaron Murray is the Real Deal; he set freshman passing records and almost eclipsed seasonal passing marks for a quarterback of any class (many of them held by Matthew Stafford). Dawg fans will be happy to see him under center for the foreseeable future.
Of course, replacing a player the caliber of Green will be tough, but the team has a corps of young and talented receivers who can step up next season.
See you Bulldog fans in Atlanta the first week of December 2011?
What This Win Means For UCF Going Into 2011
For George O'Leary's UCF Knights, 2010 was a season for the record books. Never has a UCF team won this many games and been showered with accolades as this team has.
The problem is that the heart and soul of the team, the 19 seniors in this year's class, won't be back next season.
But O'Leary has proven that he can build and reload. His Knights team from a couple of years ago also won the C-USA crown, and he returned to the title game this year.
Given that the Florida recruiting market is both lucrative and incredibly competitive, boasting an 11 win season and a victory over a storied and powerful program like Georgia's means that the future remains bright for the UCF Knights despite the loss of senior leadership.