ORLANDO (AP) — Central Florida rode a dominant first-half performance to a 33-20 victory over Florida International.
The Knights (2-1) limited FIU to just 26 yards total offense en route to a 23-0 halftime lead, but had to hold off a late rally to get the victory. Blake Bortles threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns and Storm Johnson rushed for 78 yards for UCF.
“It was two different halves,” UCF coach George O’Leary said. “I thought we were in sync on offense in the first half, but sporadic and inconsistent the second.”
FIU tailback Darian Mallary rushed for 71 yards and two touchdowns, almost all of it in the second half when the Panthers made up for their anemic first half by rolling up 280 yards of offense and scoring three times. Kedrick Rhodes got the other FIU touchdown on a 5-yard scoring pass from Jake Medlock.
“I really like the way we did things in the second half, but we dug too deep a hole in the first half,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “We couldn’t get them off the field in that first half and then things were completely different in the second. We started moving it really well.”
UCF owned the first half. Bortles found fullback Billy Giovanetti on a third-and-goal play for a 4-yard scoring pass to get UCF’s offense started. FIU contributed a safety when an errant center snap went over punter Jack Griffin’s head and out of the endzone to make it 9-0.
Bortles then threw a 16-yard scoring pass to Rannell Hall in the second quarter and Brynn Harvey tacked on a 4-yard scoring run to make it 23-0 at the half.
UCF’s defense, meanwhile, was manhandling FIU. The Knights allowed only two first downs and made the Panthers go three-and-out on four occasions in the half.
“We had a chip on our shoulder because we didn’t think these guys respected us,” said UCF linebacker Troy Davis, who had two sacks and seven tackles in the game. “Then we got sloppy in our techniques and adjustments the second half.”
“What I saw was sloppy tackling,” O’Leary said of the second-half breakdown. “They got a lot of hidden yards after the first hit.”
The Panthers’ offense finally got on track with an 85-yard scoring drive on their first possession in the third quarter. Medlock, who was just 1-of-8 passing in the first half, went 4 for 4 for 77 yards on the drive, including the 5-yard toss to Rhodes for a touchdown.
UCF responded with an 83-yard scoring drive that included a 47-yard reception by Hall on which the Knights’ receiver laid himself out completely to make a diving catch at the FIU 32-yard line. Two plays later, Jeff Godfrey, a starting quarterback last year, but now a wide receiver, took a handoff on an apparent end around. Instead, he stopped and fired a 10-yard scoring pass to J.J. Worton to make it 30-7.
Mallary scored on a 28-yard run to cut the deficit to 30-14 at the end of the third quarter.
The Panthers benefited from a bizarre exchange early in the fourth quarter when Medlock fumbled at his own 4-yard line while being sacked.
UCF’s Terrance Plummer picked it up, but then fumbled and FIU’s Glenn Coleman fell on it.
The Panthers drove 96 yards in eight plays, with Mallary scoring from four yards out to make it 30-20. A 2-point attempt that would have made it a one-possession game failed.
UCF got a 23-yard field goal from Shawn Moffitt with just over two minutes left in the game to sew up the victory.
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