ORLANDO, Fla. – The No. 19 Cincinnati Bearcats enjoyed their first five minutes in the national college football spotlight on Saturday, but there was nothing but misery after that.
After UC (9-2) took a 6-0 lead, it was all in central Florida (10-0), with the faster, more physically sculpted No. 11 Knights overtaking and overtaking the No. 19 Bearcats in a 38-13 lap on national television.
“It was a difficult task,” said UC coach Luke Fickell. “The things we are proud of all year round when it comes to playing complementary football didn’t happen tonight. There isn’t a finger to point to. We have to play well in all three phases, and we didn’t play well enough. ” in one of the three phases tonight. “
WATCH: WCPO’s John Popovich rates the Orlando game.
UC’s offense didn’t score until the fourth quarter against a dominant, punchy UCF defense that sacked and pressured freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder all night and contained Michael Warren II’s running back. Give credit to Ridder for never giving in and nearly chopping off his head when he suffered a vicious blow in the third quarter while skipping a safe slide on a third down run.
Ridder lost a fumble but somehow stayed in the game.
UC’s defense couldn’t match the explosive pace of UCF’s receivers and backs, with quarterback McKenzie Milton throwing three touchdown passes 17 and 42 yards to Adrian Killins and 36 yards to Tre Nixon.
UC’s brief climax came on UCF’s first game of scrimmage when linebacker Malik Clements faded Milton and forced a fumble, and the defensive end Kimoni Fitz bounced back in the end zone, giving UC the lead with 10:33 remaining in the first quarter.
But then UC’s kicking problems raised their ugly heads.
WATCH UC fans react from Clifton.
Freshman Cole Smith not only missed the extra point, he also missed two field goals in the first two quarters, which robbed UC of its early momentum. Smith hooked a 38-yarder and then blocked a 41-yarder and returned 53 yards to prepare the first of Milton’s two TD passes for killins.
Smith has missed seven of 12 field goal attempts this season.
The Bearcats also missed an opportunity to cut a 21-6 deficit when UCF’s Titus Davis fired Ridder and forced a fumble after UC drove into the Knights 20 in the last minute of the first half.
“We created some momentum early in the game and gave it back to them immediately, whether it was a missed field goal, an extra point or something,” said Fickell. “When you play against the champions, when you play against a team as good as they do, you can’t have such mishaps.”
With a deficit of 35-7 on UC, freshman running back Tavion Thomas ran 28 yards to UCF 1 and finished a 75-yard drive with a 1-yard TD for the only points of the offensive. Thomas showed flashes of speed and finished with 79 yards on 12 carries.
It was tougher in the first three quarters before the result was sealed. Warren hardened 81 yards for 18 carries and had three catches for 27 yards, but he could only score a touchdown in the second game of the season.
Fighting for his life, Ridder gained 70 yards with 20 carries before the USF rushers locked him in the pocket. UC landed 252 yards on 55 carries.
Ridder completed 11 of 26 passes for 127 yards. Milton completed 15 of 28 for 268 yards and three TDs, and also scored on a 3-yard run.
It was the UCF’s 23rd straight win and exactly what the Knights wanted to impress on the playoff selection committee. The prime-time matchup crowned a day when Orlando became the epicenter of college football when ESPN’s “College GameDay” was first broadcast from the UCF campus.
UCF finished Friday against rivals South Florida.
UC will end its regular season on Friday against East Carolina at Nippert Stadium with a bowling court already won. That – and a season with 10 wins – would be a big turnaround for a program that turns out to be two 4-8 marks.
But that was no consolation for Fickell on Saturday night.
“We still have a way to go. I felt it tonight,” said Fickell. “I’m not saying we can’t win, but I still think we have a way to go. I’m not going to lie to my boys. I want them to know we’re going to shoot this.” to the.”
SEE game stats on ESPN.com.