Written by Manuel DeLeon
Orlando- In front of an energized Camping World Stadium, UCF(6-7,4-4) and Arkansas State(8-5,8-1) kicked off the 2016 AutoNation Cure Bowl, and didn’t disappoint. Both teams came into the contest relying mostly on their defenses to keep them in games, with ASU’s defense ranked 42nd in the nation. From the coin toss ASU felt disrespected. If the Knights weren’t going to give ASU the respect they warranted, they were going to take it, and take it they did, routing the Knights 31-13.
On a beautiful night, things couldn’t have started any uglier for the Knights as their first three drives ended in punts. Looking to secure its first bowl victory since defeating Baylor 52-42 in the 2014 Fiesta bowl, UCF couldn’t seem to get over the early miscues. The Knights average 53.9 penalty yards per game, they surrendered 42 in the first quarter alone.
Taking advantage of the UCF rocky start, Arkansas St. jumped out a 17-0 lead in the first. The Red Wolves began the scoring, when Redshirt Junior Johnston White made a beeline for UCF Punter Caleb Houston blocking his kick in the end zone. Freshman safety B.J Edmonds was at the right place at the right time falling on the ball giving ASU the 7-0 lead early. As things continued to go downhill for the Knights, the Red Wolves were able to capitalize. On the ensuing drive ASU Redshirt Sophomore QB Justice Hansen(12-26-205-3TDS) found Junior tight end Blake Mack for a 67 yard pass down the middle, marking the longest pass in Cure Bowl history. Seconds later Jansen would find Senior wide receiver Kendall Sanders who made an amazing toe tapping touchdown grab in the back of the endzone making it 17-0 after a ASU field goal.
Looking to stay in the game, the Knight defense stepped up in the 2nd quarter, holding the Red Wolves to zero points and 12 yards heading into halftime. Seeing the defense step up, Quarterback McKenzie Milton led the Knights on their best drive of the night, marching 48 yards down the field. He would connect with Redshirt Senior wide receiver Taylor Oldham from 11 yards out for the touchdown, the first of TO’s career making the score 17-7. The Knights would add a 45-yard field goal from Matthew Williams to close out the half 17-10.
Coming out of the locker-room, UCF looked poised to make it a game, until Jansen found Kendall Sanders, who had a career night, for a 75 touchdown catch and run, taking only 51 seconds off the clock. Besides a field goal from their kicker UCF was unable to produce any points as the ASU defense stiffened. Both defenses made it hard for any back to find running room, as only 22 rushing yards were gained as a whole, through the 3rd.
With the offense sputtering, UCF’s defense found it difficult to contain the ASU offense. The Knights offense failed to get past the 50 yard in the first quarter and was only 3 of 18 on 3rd down putting its defense at a disadvantage. When the Knights defense was on the field it was Redshirt Senior linebacker Demeitre Brim, who made his presence known leading the team with 14 tackles and a forced fumble. He did what he could, but to no avail. Junior linebacker Shaquem Griffin chipped in 7 tackles along with redshirt senior D’rico Johnson.
The Knights found it tough to get in a rhythm all night as its offense only rushed for 12 yards. Trying to find a spark, Head Coach Scott Frost turned to Senior QB Justin Holman to spell the struggling Milton, but it was more of the same as the balled bounced the Red Wolves way the whole night. Milton would finish 22 of 39 for 175 yard, with one touchdown and an interception. The Red Wolves dominated the Knights offensive line all game, getting to the quarterback six times during the game.
Late in the fourth, ASU put it away after quarterback Justice Jansen found Kendall Sanders again for their 3rd touchdown hookup of the game. Sanders would finish with 127 yards and 3 touchdowns on 5 receptions. After posting career numbers, Sanders could go out the way he wanted saying, “I felt like it was a great way to go out.”
After starting 0-4, ASU went on to win a share of the Sun Belt Conference title, something no one saw them accomplishing. After the win over the Knights, the ASU celebration could be heard throughout the stadium. Head coach Blake Anderson couldn’t be more happy for his players and staff stating “ I don’t think it’s possible to explain just how hard this season has been; exhausting. They’re excited, that’s just pure joy.”
Written by Adrian Beecher
Orlando, FL - Arkansas State attacked first in the Cure Bowl, scoring a touchdown on a blocked punt and then opened up a 17-0 lead on the Knights. UCF then responded, cutting the deficit to 1 score before the half. Here is your full 1st half recap.
UCF opened with possession and were unable to get anything going after a personal foul on the opening kickoff pushed them back to their own 11-yard line. Then on the first play from scrimmage UCF was backed up 5 more yards for a false start. Then it was 3 and out as McKenzie Milton was sacked on 3rd down at his own 1-yard line, forcing a 4th and 20.
Arkansas State took over on the UCF punt at the Knights 41 yard line, but they were also unable to get anything going and the red Wolves were forced into a 3 and out as well. Then UCF followed suit with another three and out, however this time their punt ended in disaster. Red Wolves Johnston White came right off the edge and blocked the Knights punt. Free safety BJ Edmonds recovered the ball in the end zone for the ASU touchdown as the Red Wolves took a7-0 lead with 10:59 left on the clock.
After another exchange of three and outs by ASU and UCF, the Red Wolves again went into attack mode. This time it was a 67-yard pass from Justice Hansen to Blake Mack, the longest pass play in Cure Bowl history. This put them down to the UCF 5 yard line, but the Re Wolves would have to settle for a 22-yard field goal.
On the ensuing kickoff, UCF fumbled and Arkansas State took over at the Knights 16 yard line. Three plays later, Hansen found Kendall Sanders in the back of the end zone for the TD connection. This made it 17-0 Red Wolves with 2:48 left in the 1st quarter.
UCF’s next possession would get them into Arkansas State territory for the first time of the day setting up a 4th and 2 from the Red Wolves 44 yard line in the 2nd quarter. However, pressure from the ASU defense would force a bad throw from McKenzie and forced a turnover on downs. The next two possessions for ASU would end quickly in 3 and outs.
The Knights first score of the game came with 9:31 left to play in the 2nd quarter. It came on a quick 4-play 48-yard drive that took just 1:25 off the clock as Milton connected with Taylor Oldham in the back of the end zone for the 11 yard score to make it 17-7. It was the first score of Oldham’s career at UCF.
Near the end of the half, UCF was called for a 15-yard facemask penalty on their kickoff to ASU. This set up the Red Wolves up with a 1st and 10 at their own 40 yard line, however the UCF defense answered and forced a quick three and out, adding a sack on 3rd and 5.
Unable to carry the momentum, UCF would be forced into a 3 and out as well. ASU took over 1st and 10 at their own 43-yard line with just 2:15 left in the half. But UCF on the first play from Hansen threw a pass in the backfield to Chris Murray, who was then stripped of the ball by UCF’s Demeitre Brim. The ball was then recovered by the Knights giving them possession at the ASU 30 yard line.
Little progression was made on the Knights drive, they were however able to tack on a 45 yard field goal to cut it to a 1 score game with 1:04 left to play in the half. The Red Wolves wouldn’t do anything with it on their next possession as the clock expired and then took their 17-10 lead into the locker room.
Written by Manuel DeLeon
Orlando may be the home of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, but play time gets thrown out the window when UCF (6-6, 4-4 AAC) and Arkansas State (7-6, 6-1 Sun Belt) clash on the gridiron for the 2016 edition of the AutoNation Cure Bowl.
Both teams come into the contest evenly matched, with each team relying heavily on its defense to set the tone.
“I think our football team and their football team are similar. They’ve got a streak right now of bowl games going. I think its impressive what they’ve done.” UCF Head Coach Scott Frost said, at a bowl press conference Thursday afternoon. “Taking nothing away from the rest of the team, I think the strength of their team is their defense. Their defense and our defense, are I think, the two most improved in the country, coming off of last year.”
The similarities don’t stop there as both units boast a Defensive Player of the Year in their respective conferences. Arkansas State defensive end Ja’von Rolland-Jones was named Sun Belt player of the year after racking up 11.5 sacks, moving him to first all time in sacks in conference history. Junior Shaquem Griffin, you may have seen his story featured on College Gameday for only having one hand, was named American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, leading the conference in sacks with 11.
Most would’ve wrote UCF off after a winless 2015 campaign, but your greatest triumphs come after being tested. Enter Scott Frost, and the Knights take on a mindset. Senior linebacker Mark Rucker spoke on what it was like coming into the 2016 season. “Coming off that season nobody wanted to remember it I think that made us all stronger coming into the offseason. That made us work even harder; Push each other.”
Arkansas State, came into the season having been to five bowl games in a row, but were on the brink of having that streak snapped after starting 0-4. This Red Wolves team showed a lot of fight and grit to get back to a bowl game after an uncharacteristic slow start. Watching his team battle back from adversity week after week, made Head Coach Blake Anderson proud of the way his team came together saying “I think it’s a great way to finish our season. We’ve struggled a lot to get to this point. To win a conference championship and be bowl eligible after starting 0-4, I’m really proud of how this group came together. What they did to even have us bowl eligible, to capture a share of the title to go along with that, it kind of speaks for itself.”
For the UCF players, staff and fans, making a bowl game was well over due. For some players, this will be their first bowl experience, so they are just taking it all in, but not forgetting what it took to get here with Griffin stating “It’s a great experience right now, and just coming off last season and the losses we had, it just a blessing to have the opportunity to be here”
Written by Brett Korpi
The Game: AutoNation Cure Bowl
The Teams: Arkansas State (7-5) vs. University of Central Florida (6-6)
Where: Camping World Stadium. Orlando, Florida
When: 5:30pm EST, Saturday, December 17, 2016
Where to Watch: CBS Sports Network
The Cause: Proceeds from the AutoNation Cure Bowl will directly fund individual breast cancer researchers, like Dr. Annette Khaled, through the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
What to watch for:
UCF Offense: The Knights start true-freshman McKenzie Milton at quarterback, and have progressed throughout the season running first-year head coach Scott Frost’s spread attack. Look for, Milton who threw for 1,808 yards and 9 touchdowns in nine games, along with running backs Jawon Hamilton and Dontravious Wilson, who each ran for 450 yards and combined for 12 scores, to control the pace of play.
Arkansas State Offense: For the Red Wolves, quarterback Justice Hansen has thrown for 2,514 yards and 16 touchdowns. His top target is tight end Blake Mack who had 585 receiving yards and three scores. Running back Warren Wand led the way on the ground with 867 yards and seven touchdowns.
UCF Defense: Led by twin brothers, Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin, the Knights defense has been stout when it matters most, only giving the opposing offenses a 70 percent success rate in the red-zone, and 30 percent conversion rate on third-down.
Arkansas State Defense: The Red Wolves defense has been porous this season, giving up 532.0 yards and 38.7 points per game. However, they have a pair of monster defensive ends in Ja’von Rolland-Jones and Chris Odom who have 12.5 and 11 sacks respectively. They are each eyeing the Sun Belt Conference single-season record of 13 sacks.
Player to Watch: The aforementioned Shaquem Griffin. The linebacker, was recently named AAC Defensive Player of the Year, has been dominant all season for the Knights. He accumulated 85 tackles, 19 for loss, and 11 sacks. All while playing with one hand, a result of a rare congenital disorder.