Tech took on 14th-ranked UCF this past Saturday in their first home game of the season. Bobby Dodd looked quite different this year but was just as loud as ever when the Jackets returned the opening kick deep inside UCF territory. Tech found itself in the endzone just a few short plays later, scoring a touchdown in the first 55 seconds of the game.
The UCF offense responded forcefully with a flurry of quick-paced passes, matching the game at 7 with just under 12 minutes to go in the first. Tech freshman Jeff Sims led a promising ensuing drive, showing his dual-threat potential as he led the Jacket offense down the field with a combination of impressive throws and runs. However, a fumble inside the red zone stopped them in their tracks.
After a defensive stop, Sims came back undaunted. The Jacket spread offense started to take shape, ending the first quarter in the red zone.
Like last week, special teams cost the Jackets yet again, this time in the form of a missed field goal. After two consecutive trips in the red zone ending with nothing, the Jackets defense took the field, getting pushed back into the end zone as UCF went up 14-7.
Tech’s defense continued its struggle, leaving receivers open and giving up a 21-yard run to go down 21-7. A quick three and out gave the Knights back the ball and an opportunity to take a commanding three touchdown lead. The momentum seemed to be heading towards the Knights until a fumble recovery by Avery Showell, giving the Jackets a much-needed break.
Unfortunately, the ensuing possession ended in an interception by Sims, and UCF came back with a deep touchdown pass to take a 28-7 lead. Tech’s offense responded with just over two minutes to go until the half, marching down the field and getting a nine-yard touchdown pass from Sims to Jahymr Gibbs.
The second half began with Tech launching a failed onside kick. Getting the ball at midfield, the Tech defense was pushed against a wall after a converted first down by UCF, but responded with a fourth down stop. A Tech fumble gave UCF the ball, who then threw an interception. The strange exchange led to Tech punting deep in its own territory. A long punt by Pressley Harvin III put the Knights inside their own 10 yard-line.
A few exchanges later, the Jackets found themselves at 4th and 9 inside the UCF 30 yard-line. With little faith in the ability of the field goal squad, Collins elected to go for it, ending with a turnover.
Entering into the fourth, the Jacket offense charged downfield, culminating in a 33-yard touchdown run by Jahmyr Gibbs. UCF responded with a touchdown of its own, setting the game at 35-21.
With a comeback all but out of reach, Tech struggled to find itself the rest of the fourth quarter. Failing to answer its special teams’ weakness from the previous week, the Jackets were simply unable to find a rhythm after a stellar first drive. UCF went on the score one more time, finishing at 42-21 and handing Tech their first loss of the season.
Looking forward, Tech’s next game will be against Syracuse, who currently sit at 0-2 after losing to Pittsburgh. As Tech heads into conference play, its question of special teams play remains unanswered.
Freshman Jude Kelley has had four kicks blocked over the first two games. Gavin Stewart, another freshman, kicked the last two extra points for the Jackets on Saturday, and may see more action against the ‘Cuse. If the offense can cut down on the turnovers, Tech will have a great chance of coming away from their first trip to the Carrier Dome with a victory.