ORLANDO, Fla. — East Carolina's defensive success against UCF during the second half Saturday night, which was a major bright spot in a 41-28 loss, was a mix of adjustments and passion.
Even in allowing 41 points, just below UCF's season average, ECU took pride in outscoring the Knights 22-6 after halftime at Spectrum Stadium. UCF rolled to 418 yards by halftime, but it finished with 611. ECU finished with 483 yards.
"It was emotion and we wanted to finish the game hard and come out and have a great second half defensively," Pirate senior D-End Kendall Futrell said. "It was a lot better effort and a lot better mindset."
ECU first-year coach Mike Houston added that the Pirates' defensive plan was simplified after halftime and facing a 35-6 deficit at intermission.
"We kind of narrowed down our focus and you had to decide how you wanted to play them," he said. "They really put a lot of stress on you, and I thought our kids really responded well in the second half. ... They are very skilled and very good at what they do."
ECU blocked a punt and enjoyed a 16-6 advantage in scoring during the third quarter.
The third quarter, when Futrell had a strip-sack as part of his night of two sacks and five tackles, looked completely different from the first.
The opening quarter was when UCF negated bad field position with long drives to score a touchdown on each of its first five possessions.
UCF’s first offensive play of the night came from its own 4-yard line. The opening snap of the Knights’ third drive was at the 5-yard line.
But UCF calmly and smoothly shook that off and scored a touchdown on each possession, setting the tone for a 21-0 lead that was 35-3 before halftime for an insurmountable advantage.
The game ended up being defined by UCF’s multitude of playmaking options on offense and a steady defense outlasting ECU's comeback attempt. The Knights’ skill players delivered to help freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel finish 22-of-35 for 365 yards and two touchdowns.
But ECU gained two first downs on the game’s opening possession and Jonn Young’s punt pinned the Knights inside their own 10-yard line. ECU had a shot at early momentum and great field position, but UCF’s intentions and ability to produce long drives prevailed.
Reserve linebacker Aaron Ramseur stepped for the Pirates' defense as the game progressed, finishing with a game-high 14 tackles. Daniel Charles had eight tackles, and Alex Turner seven with a fumble recovery.
ECU positives were hard to find when the Knights led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. Total yards at the end of the first favored UCF, 250-71. It was a 418-180 advantage by halftime.
The Knights’ first three possessions began deep in their own territory, starting at the 8-yard line and then the 21 and 10. They found the end zone on each occasion, spanning 261 yards on 27 plays.
That is a 9.6 yards per play average for UCF to lead 21-0.
"If you make a mistake then they will make you pay, and that is what happened on those drives," Houston said.
Gabriel Davis was UCF's top playmaker, making nine receptions for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Both TDs came in the first half.
Contact Ronnie Woodward at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.