Knights repeat as AAC champions
ORLANDO- After a disastrous first half, the UCF Knights rebounded by outscoring the Memphis Tigers 35-3 in the second half en route to a 56-41 victory. The victory earned the Knights their second consecutive AAC championship. With their 25th consecutive win, UCF now has the fourth-longest winning streak ever in college football (Miami, 34 from 2000-03; Florida State, 29 from 2012-14; Alabama, 26 from 2015-16). They also showed that they are not a one-man team with this effort.
UCF got off to an absolutely brutal start in the first half giving up 38 points to the Tigers and over 300 rushing yards. Second-half adjustments by defensive coordinator Randy Shannon were key as they limited Memphis to only three points in the second half.
Darriel Mack Jr., playing for the injured McKenzie Milton, shrugged off two early turnovers to rush for 59 yards on 18 carries with four second-half touchdowns and rally the Knights past the Tigers (8-5) for the fourth time in two seasons. He would finish the game 19-27 for 248 yards and two more touchdowns passing. Also key was running back Greg McCray who ended the night with over 180 yards rushing for the third time in the last five games.
Now the seventh-ranked Knights (12-0, No. 8 CFP), who proclaimed themselves national champions last January after finishing as the only undefeated team in the FBS, will see if repeating as AAC champs and having the nations longest winning streak are good enough to get them into the playoff. It was a total team effort but there is something to be said for the defensive adjustments made by Shannon. The Knights have not given up more than seven points in any game in the third quarter this season and tonight proved to be no different. This is the second time this season that UCF has given up 30 or more points to Memphis in the first half but only gave up a combined three points in the second half in both games.
Darrell Henderson scored on runs of 62, 12 and 82 yards and also throw a 4-yard TD pass to help Memphis (8-5) build its big halftime lead. The Tigers had nearly 300 rushing yards in the first quarter and a half but were held to less than 100 rushing yards in the entire second half.
In order to be legitimate playoff contenders the UCF Knights needed Northwestern to beat Ohio and Texas to beat Oklahoma and neither one of those scenarios occurred so those nights or likely off to another New Year’s Day Bowl which will most likely be the Fiesta Bowl or a repeat trip to Atlanta to the Peach Bowl.
One thing’s for sure, after 25 straight victories and scoring 30 or more points in all 25, the UCF Knights have earned respect and national attention which shouldn’t go away anytime soon.
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