Now we will see.
Now we will see how tough and tenacious this UCF team is.
Now we will see how resolute and resilient this team is.
Now we will see if the Knights stand up … or give up.
When kicker Daniel Obarski missed a last-second 40-yard field goal to give Memphis a hair-pulling, nail-biting, defenseless, down-to-the-wire 50-49 victory, UCF’s hopes and dreams for the 2020 season sailed wide left as well.
The team’s preseason goals are essentially gone now.
For all intents and purposes, the conference championship is gone.
A spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game is gone.
A three-decade 13-game win streak against Memphis is gone.
Asked what he can do to keep his team motivated and inspired moving forward, UCF coach Josh Heupel replied, “We have a bunch of competitors in that locker room, and as a competitor, there’s a pride factor in everything you do every day. There is certainly a pride factor on game day. We will move on get ready for the next one. There are lessons to be learned.”
“This moment,” he added, “can either define who we are moving forward or we can define this moment moving forward.”
Still, everybody associated with UCF from the players to the coaches to the administration to the fans to Knightro the mascot have to be wondering: How this could possibly happen?
How does UCF have nearly 800 yards of total offense (798 to be exact) … and lose?
How does UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel throw for a school record 601 yards and five touchdowns without an interception … and lose?
How does UCF have three receivers with more than 170 yards in receptions … and lose?
How does UCF have touchdown passes of 85 yards to Marlon Williams, 43 yards to Jalen Robinson and 93 yards to Ryan O’Keefe … and lose?
The answer is obvious: Because UCF’s defense was, well, defenseless.
Actually, both defenses were defenseless, with the two teams combining for a conference-record 1,501 yards of total offense, 191 plays and nearly 100 points. As exciting as this game was from an offensive standpoint, it was a joke from an overall football standpoint. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: This is just another indication that college football, sadly, is turning into the Arena League.
Every time it looked like UCF’s offense had put the game away, Memphis came storming back behind sixth-year senior quarterback Brady White, who completed 34 of 50 passes for 486 yards and six touchdowns. White led the Tigers to 21 fourth-quarter points to choreograph the greatest comeback in Memphis football history.
On fourth-and-3 on Memphis’s final possession, the Tigers had one last chance to try to keep their game-winning drive alive. White executed a perfect shovel pass to Tahj Washington, who took it 52 yards to the UCF five-yard line to set up the game-winning four-yard TD pass. There was only 1:08 left and Memphis had just claimed its first lead of the game.
UCF got the ball back and drove right down the field to set up the final kick from Obarski, who was distraught after the miss and slammed his helmet into the ground upon reaching the UCF sideline.
And now the question is: How will UCF respond to two consecutive devastating losses — first to Tulsa and now to Memphis?
In this weird, whacked-out, confusing, COVID-plagued season, every team in the country must try to stay motivated in any way it can. As Heupel said before the first game of the season, teams must conjure up their own inspiration and motivation when playing in mostly empty stadiums in games that nobody knows are even going to be played on a weekly basis.
“If you’re juiceless, you’re useless,” Heupel said before the season.
But will the Knights be able to squeeze any juice out of this suddenly fruitless season?
It’s already difficult enough for players to stay motivated amid this gloomy, grinding pandemic that just won’t seem to go away. Teams don’t even know from week to week who or if they’re playing, evidenced by the fact that Memphis went nearly a month between its first and second games and had an 11-day gap without practicing because of positive COVID-19 tests in the program.
Just look at what happened in college football in recent days and weeks. Right up the road in Gainesville, the Gators had a COVID outbreak, including their coach Dan Mullen testing positive, and postponed this week’s game against LSU and next week’s game against Missouri. In Tallahassee, current head coach Mike Norvell and legendary former coach Bobby Bowden both have tested positive for COVID.
What about UCF?
Can the Knights continue to test negative while staying positive?
Now we will see.
Now we will see how tough and tenacious, resilient and resolute this team and this program is.
What’s it going to be, UCF Knights?
Are you going to give up?
Or stand up?
Or slack off?
(Mike Bianchi is a sports columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.)
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