The Houston Cougars can walk away and talk about how they exposed the University of Central Florida's defense as a fraud. They can talk about another explosive game from receiver Patrick Edwards who seems to draw David Piland's passes to him like a target. They can talk about another fantastic game from the running back duo of Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes. The Cougars can talk about effort and confidence.
The Cougars can talk about all of that, but in the end, none of it matters because it's the UCF Knights, and not the Houston Cougars, who walked out of Robertson Stadium as the 40-33 victor on Friday night. And it was more than just a loss for the Cougars, as it might also have dashed their hopes for a bowl game.
The Knights came into Friday's game with the top defense in the C-USA. But as the Cougars showed, that ranking was more the result of the Knights playing horrible teams than it was the Knights defense being good because, for the most part doing the game, the Cougar offense moved up and down the field with seeming ease. The problem for the Coogs was that neither the special teams nor the defense were up to the standards of the offense.
And on this night, that failure led to a loss to a team the Cougars could have, should have easily defeated.
The Knights took the early 7-0 lead when UCF lineman Bruce Miller made a good move to intercept a Piland screen pass and returned it for a touchdown. The Cougar offense quickly made the score 7-3. But then UCF's freshman QB, Jeff Godfrey, did his best impersonation of Baylor's Robert Griffin III and took over the game.
"In third-down situations, we would stop them on first and second down, then on third down he'd [Godfrey] would scramble and get out of it," said Houston Cougars head coach Kevin Sumlin. "We gave up one really good play. We need to get better. It's frustrating for everybody when you keep the quarterback contained, until the second-and-long or third-and-long situation. He's a guy that can move around."
The score was 20-3 in favor of UCF with over 10 minutes left in the second period. Then Piland hit Edwards over the middle for a touchdown to make it 20-10 -- it could have been 20-13, but the Cougars had earlier missed a field goal. UCF was able to make it 23-10 when they hit a field goal right before the half.
But they knew they could move the ball against the Knights defense, so the Cougars came into the half optimistic they were going to get back into the game. And for the third quarter, at least, the UH defense showed up, allowing the Cougars to gain, for a short time, the 24-23 lead.
"In the first half we were able to move the ball down the field against them," Beall said. "We just didn't put any points on the board. We missed a field goal and turned the ball over. We knew in the first half that we were able to have success both on the ground and through the air. We kept each other positive in the first half heading into halftime down 20-3 [actually 23-10] knowing that with our offense we can put points up on the board. The second half we started great and played well. We just got to get together and learn how to finish."
But that was as good as it would get for the Cougars. UCF had the 30-24 lead as the third quarter ended, and throw in a missed extra point and a failure to make tackles on special teams and the Cougars just couldn't make the comeback, no matter how easily they sliced through the UCF defense.
"We came up short; we didn't get the win," cornerback Jamal Robinson said. "How close we were doesn't mean anything because we still lost the game."
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The loss makes the Cougars 5-4 on the season (4-2 in conference) with three very difficult games left this season, including this weekend's match-up against the offensive force that is the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. And at this point, winning C-USA might have to become secondary to just getting the one more win needed to gain eligibility.
"It's disappointing because we didn't win the game," Sumlin said. "For our team our season's not over. We will continue to correct and we'll get ready of Tulsa next week."
The season might not be over for the Houston Cougars. But it's close. And they're quick running out of time.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Welcome to the Patrick Edwards show. Edwards caught three TD passes on Friday night. That's the second time this season he has caught three TDs in a game. It was also his third multi-TD game of the season, and it was the fifth straight game in which Edwards has caught a TD....Michael Hayes rushed for 110 yards on the night. This was his second straight 100-plus yard rushing game, the first time a Cougar running back has done this 2008....Freshman David Piland threw four touchdown passes. This was his fourth multi-TD pass game of his career.