Of all the ways last night could have gone, the way it actually turned out was probably the worst-case scenario. The offense couldn’t finish drives, the offensive line struggled to protect Desmond Ridder and the defense had too many missed plays to stop the UCF Knights from rolling to a 38-13 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Due to the final results, trying to pick three UC stars from the game may seem like a pointless exercise, but there are players who really stood out and made an impact, especially when the Bearcats appeared poised to send shock waves through the rest of the American Athletic Conference. Let’s recognize them before their efforts get completely washed away in the negative feelings of a blowout loss.
Honorable Mention: Since the offense really didn’t play that well, at least in terms of scoring, it would be disingenuous to force an offensive player into the rankings, but that doesn’t mean some guys didn’t do their best. Desmond Ridder may have had a tough passing day, but he extended multiple drives with his rushing ability. Similarly, Michael Warren and Tavion Thomas both attacked in the rushing game, even if they were unable to turn the tide. Finally, Kahlil Lewis may have finished with a pedestrian 75 yards on five receptions, but he was the only UC wide receiver who seemed to be able to get open.
One Star - Jarell White, LB
White led the Bearcats in tackles for the second-straight week, posting a season-high of 11 against UCF. The sophomore linebacker has really turned on the jets as the season winds toward its conclusion. Twenty nine of his 50 tackles this season have come in the last three weeks. White didn’t just have a bunch of garden variety tackles either, as he managed a tackle for loss as well as a quarterback hit. His efforts may have been in vain, but White was a steadfast defender that made plays. That’s something worth highlighting.
Two Stars - James Smith, P
Cincinnati has one of the best punters in the country and Smith showed why on Saturday. Averaging 47.5 yards per kick on four punts, Smith helped with the battle for field position in a big way. His longest punt went for 61 yards and was one of two of more than 50 yards. However, it was one of his two punts to be downed inside the UCF 20-yard line that made the greatest impact. After UC stalled on their first offensive drive, Smith held back a little in order to send a 32-yard punt that pinned UCF at its own seven-yard line. The bad field position played right into the Bearcats’ hands, as they scored a defensive touchdown on the next play. That doesn’t happen without Smith and without that score, this game would have been a whole lot worse.
Three Stars, Malik Clements, LB, and Kimoni Fitz, DE
It ultimately didn’t matter, but Clements and Fitz combined on the biggest play of the game for the Bearcats. After Smith’s brilliant punt following UC’s first possession, the Knights lined up at their own seven-yard line. McKenzie Milton dropped back to pass on first down, and the Bearcats were ready, collapsing on the UCF signal caller. Clements got to him first, forcing a fumble with a strip sack that was recovered by Fitz in the end zone for six points. Clements finished with two tackles for loss, but it was that one play that was the high point for any Bearcat. Fitz had a pretty good game as well, finishing with five tackles and a sack, along with the only meaningful points of the night.
Who was the MVP of Cincinnati’s loss to UCF?
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