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Orlando, Fla. - After being down 21 points in the first quarter, the Knights made a valiant comeback. All the big passing plays, big hits, and hard runs by Isaiah Bowser allowed for some great action by the Knights. Hats off to Boise State as well. That’s a good football team.

Unusual time to start a game: Kickoff was slated for Thursday at 7 p.m. but because of lightning did not start until around 10 p.m.. The three hour weather delay made it a very long evening, as the media was leaving UCF’s campus after 2 a.m.

Overall First Half Thoughts

The Knights blew opportunities with a horribly thrown interception, self-inflicted drive-killing penalties, and simply made defensive errors. Still, the offense had its moments, as did the defense. Consider the following stats from this tweet as Boise State led 24 to 14 at halftime.

How does a team dominate in the running game and still trail at halftime? The big play! It’s the same point that Inside The Knights made mention of several times within the past week. Just cannot allow a quality opponent to have free points. Well, a big mistake happened early on and it changed the scoreboard, as well as the momentum of the football game.

Gabriel’s Interception Changed the Momentum of the Game

After dominating the Broncos as the UCF offense went down the field, Dillon Gabriel threw an absolutely terrible pass that was intercepted and returned 100 yards for a score by cornerback Tyric Lebeauf. Gabriel later admitted that the ball slipped when he was trying to throw it. Unfortunate, but still a play that should have been an easy UCF touchdown (Brandon Johnson was wide open) turned into a score for Boise State.

The ultimate momentum killer, Boise State would then race out to a 21 to nothing lead. Still, UCF’s offense kept battling, beginning with the rushing attack.

Bowser Came to Play

From the opening drive, Bowser really ran hard. A one-cut-and-go runner, Bowser accounted for 22 rushing yards from four attempts during the first two drives. That type of production would continue to pile up throughout the first half and his average yards per carry would increase, due in large part to a dazzling move that helped him gain 30 yards from one carry.

For the first half, Bowser tallied 63 rushing yards from 7 carries. That nine yards per carry rushing average was a glimpse of what would come in the second half as well. As for his style of play, it’s a classic fit for UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn and what the offensive coaching staff needs.

He’s a natural inside the tackles running back. Quick cuts, juke moves, spins, and hesitations all helped to bypass Boise State defenders and create yards after contact. Bowser played great in the first half. As for the defense, it had its moments, but a prior issue came back up.

Poor Open-Field Tackling Really Hurt UCF

UCF’s defense struggled to make one-on-one tackles in space. Worse, several times UCF defenders had their hands on a Broncos player and that player just broke free.

This is the same problem from the past several seasons. Until extinguished, this problem will hinder UCF’s efforts to play against quality offenses. Tackling is the basic function of any defense. Why does it continue to be so difficult for the Knights?

Perhaps UCF needs to do something different with practice. Regardless, it was a poor showing in the first half. Not all of the defensive efforts were below par, however.

Defensive Line Played Well Against the Run

While the Broncos created a few running lanes, UCF really did a nice job of bottling up the Broncos’ rushing attack overall. During the first half, Boise State only mustered 20 carries for 47 yards rushing. That's a really good defensive effort by the Knights.

With that type of play moving forward, UCF had a chance to get back in the game. Stopping the run is always a priority, and the Knights showed they could do it. As for the Broncos passing game, much respect.

Bachmeier Came Out Firing Darts

There’s not much a defense can do with really well thrown passes. Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier did a tremendous job of threading the needle with multiple throws that allowed his receivers to make plays after the catch and move the chains.

Bachmeier was 16 of 22 for 172 yards and one touchdown during the first half. His ability to hit the clutch pass, however, stood out over any statistic. He captured the moment with multiple throws that led to big passing plays.

Second Half Sees Knights Rally Past the Broncos

The third quarter was incredible, especially for the UCF defense. Boise State went backwards, losing 11 yards for the quarter. That’s a really rare statistic to hold a team to negative yards for an entire stanza like they did against the Broncos.

The Knights also lit up the Broncos defense, finding the end zone twice in the third quarter. Just a great effort by both sides of the football.

The fourth quarter witnessed a great final drive by UCF that allowed for the final score of 36 to 31. Much like the the third quarter, big plays were the theme, and that started with the UCF front seven playing great football.

Broncos’ Running Game Destroyed by UCF’s Front Seven

After rushing for a paltry 47 yards from 20 carries during the first half, the Broncos once again proved they have major issues up front along the offensive line. In the second half, it was worse, and much of that can be attributed to the UCF front seven. Even taking away the special teams blunder that cost the Broncos 29 rushing yards, there were several run stuffs and tackles near the line of scrimmage.

Additionally, Kalia Davis, Big Kat Bryant and the rest of the UCF defensive line simply possessed too much talent for the Broncos offensive line. Stronger, quicker and faster, the Knights defensive front was dominant against the Boise State running game, especially during the second half.

For the game, the Broncos running backs combined for 49 rushing yards from 22 carries. In the second half, the two running backs combined for a mere two rushing yards. That’s correct, two rushing yards. Incredible defense by the Knights.

Looking at the run defense from the entire game, holding an opponent’s running backs to a 2.2 yards per carry average needs to be mentioned. Great job by the UCF defense.

Gabriel Catches Fire, Then Makes Huge Mistake

Whether it was the incredible pass to his favorite target Jaylon Robinson (140 yards for the game) for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone, or Gabriel scrambling for extra yardage and keeping the chains moving, he made great decisions and executed during the third quarter.

Dillon Gabriel was all smiles after the game

Dillon Gabriel was all smiles after the game

Gabriel was the best player on the field for much of the third quarter. He proved his ability to make clutch passes, clutch runs, and to forget about an earlier mistake that started the game off poorly.

Then Gabriel threw another interception. This time it was a deeper pass, but still a pass that was off the mark. Gabriel played great football for much of the evening, but the two interceptions directly led to 14 points for Boise State.

Shakir Plays Well, Goes Out with Injury

Even though he caught one touchdown after taking a short pass and breaking a tackle before running into the end zone, Khalil Shakir did not return for the last couple of drives, both of which Boise State did not score.

Shakir came back in the game later on, and he immediately created havoc. Simply put, he was just better than any one defender that went up against him. He’s a really good football player, and him being out of the lineup for multiple drives might be the biggest reason the Knights slowed down the Broncos in the second half.

When Shakir was out of the lineup, the Broncos’ rushing totals suffered. In fact, UCF dominated the front lines and stuffed just about every play that Boise ran between the tackles when Shakir was on the sidelines

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Bowser Bullied Broncos

With 10:24 remaining in the game, Bowser had carried 21 times for 127 yards. His fourth quarter proved to be good, too. He finished the game with 33 carries for 172 yards and a clutch third down a goal touchdown run.

Without question, Bowser was the game’s MVP. He earned it. The way he gained his yardage was between the tackles. The former Northwestern Wildcat played physical by pushing the pile from time to time. With really good footwork in the hole, he also made several defenders miss in tight spaces during the second half just like the first half. He was the bully on the block for the Knights.

Offensive Line Dominated the Second Half,

UCF ran for 255 yards and passed for another 318 yards in total. Much of those totals, the running game most notably, came by way of an offensive line that overwhelmed the Boise State front seven.

The 573 yards of total offense would not have happened without the big guys up front. Additionally, starting center Matthew Lee dominated his assignments versus multiple Boise State nose tackles.

The Broncos employ a base 3-4 defensive front. The nose tackle is vital for stopping the running game, and regardless of which nose tackle entered the game Lee played very well. It’s not easy shotgun snapping and taking on a 290-pound man right in front of you. Well done Mr. Lee.

Final Drive, UCF’s Defense Creates Game-Clinching Turnover

Bachmeier was flushed outside the pocket to his right, and he attempted to force a pass down the sideline. UCF nickel corner Dyllon Lester played his responsibility well, then floated back to make a clutch interception from an underthrown pass from Bachmeier. It was the only turnover UCF created all game long, but it was huge.

The Knights would bleed out the clock to win 36 to 31. It’s great to get the Gus Malzahn era started with a victory for the Knights.

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