ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — After UCF upset win at Penn State two weeks ago, the Knights entered Saturday’s matchup with No. 12 South Carolina confident the could compete with a ranked Southeastern Conference heavyweight.
For a half the Knights proved they were ready, and then they spent the final 30 minutes showing why they aren’t quite there yet.
UCF had four turnovers, two leading to Gamecocks scores, and a late rally came up short in a 28-25 loss on Saturday.
“If you turn the ball over like we did, it’s going to be harder to stay in games,” Knights’ coach George O’Leary said. “I can’t say it got away…We have a lot of young kids and we can’t sustain on turnovers and short fields. When you have a chance to make plays you have to make them, and we didn’t make enough plays in the second half.”
Gamecocks’ running back Mike Davis rushed 26 times for 167 yards and three touchdowns. He picked up the slack for an offense that played the final three quarters without starting quarterback Connor Shaw. He left the game with a sprained right shoulder following a hard tackle during South Carolina’s first offensive series of the contest.
The Knights were sharp early, but failed to convert all but one of the Gamecocks’ miscues into points.
UCF quarterback Blake Bortles threw for 358 yards and two touchdown passes, but had two interceptions and a fumble.
“For the first half, we were the better team,” UCF linebacker Terrance Plummer said. “But they made plays in the second half and we didn’t make plays until it was too late.”
Shaw was dragged to the ground by UCF linebacker Terrance Plummer and fumbled. The Knights recovered the ball and Shaw came up holding his shoulder. Shaw was taken to the locker room and when he returned to the sideline he was wearing a sling and ice pack.
South Carolina (3-1) also lost second-string tailback Brandon Wilds in the third quarter with a left elbow strain, but Davis remained steady as the primary ball carrier.
Shaw was replaced by junior Dylan Thompson had several potential big-play passes dropped by receivers. He finished the game 15 of 32 for 261 yards and an interception.
But Thompson and the Gamecocks’ offense settled down in the third quarter, relying on their rushing attack led by Davis to take control of the game.
Still, UCF (3-1), playing in front of its first sellout crowd since 2011, kept competing.
The Knights closed to within 28-18 with 10:13 to play in the game on Bortles’ 73-yard touchdown pass to Rannell Hall and subsequent 2-point conversion.
South Carolina punted on its ensuing possession, but a UCF drive that started inside the Gamecocks 40 ended with Bortles’ second interception of the day.
But the Gamecocks couldn’t seal the victory.
With less than four minutes to play, the Knights fell on a fumble inside their own 5 and struck quickly with a 3-play, 95-yard drive capped by a 7-yard touchdown pass from Bortles to Hall.
South Carolina recovered the ensuing onside kick and was able to run out the clock.
UCF had all the early momentum, leading 10-0 at halftime, the first time the Gamecocks had been shut out in a half since 2010.
South Carolina had been a fast starter this season, entering the game having scored 72 of its 92 points in the opening 30 minutes in its first three games.
The Knights mostly had their way on both sides of the ball early, and dialed up more blitzes on the Gamecocks offense with Shaw out.
UCF’s best offensive possession was on the opening drive of the game. The Knights efficiently marched 75 yards down the field in just 10 plays. The drive, which saw Bortles complete 5 of 6 passes and set up a first-and-goal with a 19-yard yard run, end with a 1-yard touchdown by Storm Johnson.
Other than the interception, Bortles was mostly unfazed by South Carolina’s pressure early on. He was sacked once, bu the Knights were 5 for 9 on third down.