Malik Cunningham strikes again: 3 takeaways from UCF Knights’ loss to Louisville
ORLANDO — John Rhys Plumlee and UCF’s offence sizzled in its season opener, but fizzled against a wounded, desperate Louisville team Friday night.
Malik Cunningham surely didn’t dissect the Knights as he did a year prior, however the redshirt senior quarterback made an adequate number of plays to lead the meeting Cardinals to a 20-14 win over UCF — none greater than a thumbs up, 43-yard score arrive behind schedule in the second from last quarter.
Cunningham tossed for 195 yards, and scrambled for 121. Paradoxically, UCF (1-1, 0-0 American) created 337 complete yards collectively — averaging a pitiful 4.7 per play.
“This needs to be a wake-up call,” Malzahn said. “We have to correct the things that we do, come together and finish this thing.
“We have a great deal of season left. I actually think we have a decent football crew. I realize we do. They must gain from this and put it behind us. I’m extremely certain we’ll end on a good note.”
The Knights’ final 10 offensive drives resulted in seven punts, a missed field goal, an end-zone interception and a turnover on downs. Plumlee posted a 16-for-34 passing line, throwing for 131 yards; however, he completed 7 of 26 attempts beyond the line of scrimmage.
UCF sought revenge after a heartbreaking 42-35 loss at Louisville last September, one which resulted in injuries to five starters — headlined by a season-ending broken collarbone for Dillon Gabriel — and a pick-six with 13 seconds left to settle the outcome.
“It sucks. This is a terrible feeling,” senior offensive lineman Samuel Jackson said. “We put a lot of work through the preseason and into this. It’s not what we wanted to see.
“We can’t let this divide us. We have a lot of football left.”
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Similarly, Louisville (1-1, 0-1 ACC) needed this game. The Cardinals had a dismal showing last Saturday night in a 31-7 defeat at Syracuse and will host Florida State next Saturday.
“It’d be hard for me just to explain how big it is,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said. “Somewhat boxed in, you lost a gathering game the primary week out and about, didn’t play well, a great deal of expectation coming in. Furthermore, a ton of certainty, truth be told, from our folks coming into the season. Getting down on yourself is truly simple. It’s truly to feel frustrated about yourself, not have a decent week and that sort of thing.”
Here are three takeaways from UCF’s disappointing showing, only its third loss in its last 34 home games.
Offensive line woes
Thought to be one of the team’s strongest units, with three returning interior starters and a pair of experienced additions via the transfer portal, UCF’s offensive line capitulated in key moments and left John Rhys Plumlee running for cover.
Louisville fired Plumlee multiple times as Lokahi Pauole, Jackson and Matt Lee were each beaten clean on somewhere around one event each.
Making matters worse, holding calls erased two enormous, potentially game-changing touchdowns.
With UCF driving 14-7 halfway through the subsequent quarter, Johnny Richardson slipped past protectors down the sidelines for a 57-yard score on a screen. Lee, the Knights’ beginning place, was hailed for a hold downfield.
The drive instead ended with a missed 32-yard field goal attempt from Daniel Obarski, who is now 0 for 2 this season and 20 for 33 in his UCF career.
The second infraction hurt even more.
Plumlee got away from the pocket, and hit Javon Bread cook for a 75-yard score pass. Right tackle Ryan Swoboda, in any case, was at legitimate fault for a hold — discrediting the score, and bringing about a fifth sequential dropkick.
“That’s on me. I’ll tell you right now — we’ve got an undisciplined team right now,” Malzahn said. “That’s not acceptable, and we’ve got to correct that.”
Containing Malik Cunningham
If there was a positive note to be found, it came from an inspired defensive effort.
UCF held Louisville to a 4-for-16 conversion rate on third down and forced one early turnover, a fumble from Tiyon Evans near midfield.
Jason Johnson made a group high 12 handles, including nine performances. Tremon Morris-Reckless had 1.5 handles for misfortune and a pass separation, and Quadric Bullard constrained a bumble and thumped down a fourth-down toss at the sticks in the principal half.
“To me, for the most part, I feel like we did our jobs,” junior defensive end Josh Celiscar said. “At the end of the day, we play defence. Offence play offence. We do what we have to do.”
However, UCF’s resistance was broken on one play as Cunningham swept around the left end and blazed down the sidelines for an untouched 43-yard score, one that proved to be the difference in the ballgame.
Linebacker Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste described the breakdown as a “coverage bust.”
The cautious unit offered its hostile partner two chances to punch in the go on score in the last six minutes.
Louisville gambled on 4th-and-4 at its own 47-yard line after the Knights were flagged for running into the kicker, and came up empty as Marshon Ford dropped a pass near the marker.
Baker shook free for a 24-yard gain into the red zone, and Isaiah Bowser — who scored both UCF touchdowns — set up 1st-and-goal at the 9. The Knights failed four times to cash in, with Jarvis Brownlee Jr. intercepting a hopeful pass to the back corner on fourth down.
Louisville failed to run out the clock, going three-and-out and giving Plumlee one last chance to change the narrative with 1:41 left. He rather fizzled on four of his last five tosses, interspersed by a fourth-and-10 ball somewhat behind first year recruit Xavier Townsend.
Kobe Hudson ‘unavailable,’ Ryan O’Keefe injured
There was a late scratch in the UCF starting lineup Friday as redshirt sophomore Stephen Martin was announced among the receiving trio with Baker and Ryan O’Keefe.
Kobe Hudson was the expected third starter, but a UCF spokesman told The News-Journal he was “unavailable” for the game. Malzahn confirmed Hudson’s absence was due to a personal matter in the post-game press conference.
Hudson, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior, drove Coppery in getting last season. He got 44 balls for 580 yards and four scores. He didn’t log a catch in last week’s opener against South Carolina State.
O’Keefe was noticeably absent down the stretch as well. He sustained an unspecified injury just before halftime, Malzahn confirmed.
The senior ended the night with four receptions for eight yards, as well as a 27-yard rush.
The Knights finished the evening with Baker, Townsend and redshirt junior Jaylon Gryphon at the receiver spots.
UCF goes on the road for the first time this season, though it’ll be a short drive down to Boca Raton to face Florida Atlantic.
The Owls are 1-1 entering Saturday’s 6 p.m. home date with Southeastern Louisiana.
UCF won all three previous meetings, including a 48-14 rout at FAU Stadium in 2019.