ORLANDO - Last week’s 34-30 loss to Navy was tough, including UCF giving up 384 rushing yards. The Knights just could not get off the field, allowing the Midshipmen to possess the football for over 39 minutes.
A big reason for Navy’s success would be its rushing attack, aided by the absence of UCF starting linebacker Tatum Bethune due to a concussion. Bethune’s return was crucial for the Knights as he made his presence felt, accumulating a career-high 17 tackles.
“He’s one of our best players,” said UCF Head Football Coach Gus Malzahn. “We didn’t have him last week because of a concussion. It looked like a real run defense and I’m real proud of our linebackers.”
Coach Malzahn talked up his defense, and his offense, in the locker room after the game:
The Knights held the Pirates to their season low in points, and allowed just 141 rushing yards on the ground. East Carolina running back Keaton Mitchell came into Saturday’s game averaging 114 yards per game, but could only muster 65 yards from 17 carries.
At a crucial point in the game, Coach Malzahn showed immense trust in his defense.
The Knights trailed by six points with just over five minutes remaining in the game. Malzahn elected to kick the field goal instead of attempting to go for it on fourth down and take the lead.
That decision paid off in a big way, as the Knights defense forced a quick three-and-out which set up the game-winning touchdown drive.
Bethune’s performance was even bigger for the Knights after starting linebacker Eriq Gilyard announced he was entering the transfer portal this past Wednesday.
The Knights will need another impressive performance from Bethune and the rest of the defense if they want a chance to upset No. 5 Cincinnati next week on the road.
“We decided to go out there and play as a brotherhood,” said Bethune. “That’s what we did and that’s what we’re going to continue to do for the rest of the season.”