Two days prior to gameday, the University of Central Florida's wide receiver Dredrick Snelson said his Knights would "hang 70" points on East Carolina University when they faced-off on national television Saturday.
While Snelson’s prediction fell short, No. 22 UCF (5-0; 3-0 AAC) still steamrolled the Pirates, 63-21, to continue their perfect season and had the chance to reach the 70-point margin, had they not fumbled on the Pirates’ one yard line.
On the other hand, it has been a far from perfect season for ECU (1-6; 1-3 AAC). The defense has been overwhelmed in almost every game this season, while the offense continues to play hide-and-seek each week. UCF continued the dreadful streak the Pirates' defense has created this season, eclipsing the 500-yard-mark, just like every team ECU has faced this year, and became the fourth team to eclipse the 600-yard mark. Comparing that to ECU's 347 yards, it's clear how lopsided Saturday's contest was.
"This was a great football team, and it would've been pretty sweet for us to come down here and get a victory," ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery, who is now 4-15 in his two years at ECU, said. "Unfortunately, we couldn't do it for a number of reasons. Not defense, not offense, not special teams, but collectively, not playing and not coaching. Everybody, we just didn't get it done."
During the second quarter, UCF’s defensive back Tre Neal intercepted one of Thomas Sirk’s passes, dashing 50 yards untouched into the end zone to increase the Knight’s score to 34-7; his score matched the total points ECU had in the game thus far. Later, another Knights' defensive back, Mike Hughes, made his presence felt as their punt returner. Hughes returned Austin Barnes' second punt of the game back for a 66-yard touchdown, but it was called back due to one of the game’s 20 penalties. However, later in the third quarter, Hughes got his shot at redemption and ran an identical 66 yards to the end zone.
Saturday also restarted the quarterback competition between Sirk and Gardner Minshew. Late in the third quarter, Sirk had completed just 9-for-21 passes for 91 yards, adding two touchdowns and an interception. In Minshew's limited time, he completed 6-for-12 passes for 69 yards and a late touchdown. Two games ago, ECU's offense took a major step back after weeks of progress behind Sirk and his play against UCF wasn't enough for him to keep his job through the game.
"At that point of the game, we wanted to get Minshew in, get him some reps," Montgomery said. "I didn't like the way we were protecting the quarterback. I planned on getting the ball out of (Minshew's hand) as quickly as we could. He did some good things while he was in there, no question, but our biggest concern is making sure we have a healthy football team moving forward."
There was one bright spot for the Pirates in a game that bared little to desire. Wide receiver Davon Grayson managed to haul in six passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. While the quarterbacks struggled, Grayson proved to be a reliable option for an ECU offense in desperate need for more production. The rest of the highly-touted wide receiver corp for the Pirates was kept quiet, but the lack of passing led to a valuable day in rushing attack. Although running backs Darius Pinnix and Hussain Howe were held out of the endzone, they combined for 163 yards on 25 carries,averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Despite the play from the two young running backs, Montgomery praised his wide receiver after the game.
"Davon Grayson is probably the biggest competitor we've got on the team right now," Montgomery said. "Hands down, at the skill position, out there, we need some people to join his competitive nature. It's not about him, it's about the team. He's a guy who continues to inspire a lot of our young players. Our young players see him, and he's helping the program every second."
Coming up is the most winnable game remaining on the schedule: a home game against Brigham Young University (1-6). The Cougars haven't looked competitive since their first game, a win against Portland State, losing the next six games by a combined 125 points. While a win won't turn around the Pirates season, it would be the first win at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this season.