No. 25 UCF routs Cincinnati 51-23 in rain-shortened game
CINCINNATI (AP) — The only thing that could stop UCF was a storm.
McKenzie Milton threw a career-high five touchdown passes — four in the first half. Tre’Quan Smith caught three touchdown passes and ran for another score . And No. 25 UCF scored every time it had the ball until the storms move in Saturday night and prematurely ended its 51-23 victory over Cincinnati.
Playing as a ranked team for the first time since 2013, the Knights (4-0, 2-0 American Athletic) were unstoppable.
“Our offense played about as well as an offense can perform tonight,” coach Scott Frost said.
UCF is 4-0 for the first time since 1988, when the Knights were in Division II. They failed to win a game two years ago, and went 6-7 in Frost’s first year. Now, the turnaround is complete.
“I think our team as a whole is coming together, playing together,” Milton said. “We have more of an edge than we did last year.”
They had the ball eight times and scored seven touchdowns and a field goal. They were ready to keep going until lightning and heavy rain moved in with 4 seconds left in the third quarter. The game was called after a one-hour delay with more storms on the way.
“Nobody wants the weather to determine a game,” said Smith, who had five catches for 165 yards . “I know Cincinnati wanted to keep playing. We wanted to keep playing, too.”
No wonder. The Knights have dominated every game, outscoring opponents 190-63. By contrast, Cincinnati (2-4, 0-2) has dropped three straight in Luke Fickell’s first season as head coach.
The Knights moved into the Top 25 with a 40-13 victory over Memphis. They carried the momentum to the road by scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions.
Milton hit open receivers for touchdowns of 54 and 79 yards on the Knights’ first two possessions, taking advantage of the Bearcats’ vulnerability against long passes. Instead of going to the run early, the Knights threw deep. The sophomore quarterback finished 16 of 19 for 374 yards with touchdowns of 54, 79, 21, 41 and 22 yards.
“We saw what we could exploit,” Milton said. “We took some shots early and often.”
Cincinnati made some changes in its defensive secondary to try to handle the Knights’ speed, but the Bearcats repeatedly had breakdowns in coverage that left receivers open.
“It didn’t go well,” Fickell said. “It didn’t work really well. Yes, there were some speed factors and some things that got exposed a little bit.”
UCF: How would the Knights handle a road game after moving into the rankings? Without a problem. Their offense made quick work of Cincinnati’s overmatched defense, with receivers repeatedly running past defenders. Milton has grown into one of the nation’s most dependable passers in his second season with only two interceptions in four games.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats fell into a bad habit: Falling so far behind that they can never catch up. They’ve been outscored 62-21 in first quarters this season. The Knights led 20-7 after the first quarter.
With their impressive win, the Knights gave themselves a chance to move up. No. 21 Florida and No. 23 West Virginia lost Saturday. UCF has shown good balance in all four wins. The Knights came into the game ranking in the top 10 in both points and points allowed.
SMITH’S BIG GAME
Smith caught three TD passes, giving him seven this season, and added his first career rushing touchdown.
“I didn’t expect anything like this at all,” said Smith, who scored on passes of 79, 41 and 22 yards. “McKenzie found me every time I was running free.”
The Knights led the nation in turnover ratio at 2.33 and were good with the ball again, getting one interception while not turning the ball over. Their offense has only three turnovers this season.
MILTON VS BEARCATS
Milton had one of his better games in its 24-3 victory over Cincinnati last season that clinched a bowl berth. Then a freshman, he completed 13 consecutive passes — two shy of the school record held by Daunte Culpepper — and finished 22 of 34 for 150 yards with a touchdown.
Cincinnati’s Hayden Moore ran for a pair of touchdowns and threw for another. He led Bearcats with a career-high 75 yards rushing.
UCF: Hosts East Carolina next Saturday. The Knights won 47-29 last season and have won three of the last four in the series.
Cincinnati: Faces a ranked team for the second straight week when it plays at South Florida on Saturday. The Bearcats lost at home to the Bulls 45-20 last season. In their last trip to South Florida, they lost 65-27.