A short-handed UCF suffered its worst loss under head coach Josh Heupel on Tuesday night.
The Knights fell 49-23 to BYU in the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl, finishing up the season at 6-4, while the Cougars finish at 11-1.
For Heupel and the rest of the team, it was a "Knightmare" that they didn't see coming.
"This is the first time since I've been here that we've been beaten like this," Heupel said.
What threw a curveball into the evening was when it was announced that senior defensive backs Richie Grant and Aaron Robinson and junior defensive back Derek Gainous would not be available for the game.
Just hours prior, Grant had been announced as one of the three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, awarded to the nation's best defensive back. Grant led the Knights with 72 tackles and three interceptions, while Robinson paced them with six pass breakups. This forced Georgia transfer Divaad Wilson into a starting role, as well Jermaine McMillian.
"You saw a bunch of young guys in there that hadn't played a lot of quality minutes through the course of this season," Heupel said. "A part of it is we knew that going into it and at the same time we believe in those guys that we can go out and play better football than we did today."
Divaad Wilson saw his night come to an end early after being ejected after a targeting call in the first quarter. The young secondary had their hands full all night, and were unable to keep BYU receivers from getting wide open.
As was evidenced when BYU quarterback Zach Wilson connected with tight end Isaac Rex on a seam route for a 27-yard touchdown that gave the Cougars a 27-7 lead with 7:11 remaining in the second quarter.
Zach Wilson was sharp all night, completing 26/34 passes for 425 yards, and five total touchdowns. It was exactly the kind of performance that showed why Wilson is on the draft boards of NFL teams looking for a franchise quarterback.
Rex was BYU's leading receiver on the night, hauling in five catches for 96 yards and two scores. The two scores gave Rex his 11th and 12th touchdowns of the season, tying him for first among tight ends in the FBS with Florida's Kyle Pitts. Receiver Dax Milne was featured as well with seven catches for 70 yards, adding on to his 1,000 yard season.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said that Zach Wilson has shown the great things he can do on the field and said that he has a lot of years of football left.
"He is a great player. I think everybody's talked about him a lot," Sitake said. "I hope he knows how much we appreciate him. Coach Roderick has done a great job with him, and it's an honor for me to be his coach."
A key factor coming into the game would be how the UCF defensive front would navigate through one of the best offensive lines in the country, which had only allowed 11 sacks on the season.
Despite being without starting lineman, Clark Barrington and James Epney, the BYU line held up, allowing only one sack to linebacker Tatum Bethune in the fourth quarter. But where the offensive line really made its mark, was in the running game.
BYU running back Tyler Allgeier continued his breakout sophomore campaign, rushing for 173 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Allgeier's performance was cherry topped by a 39-yard score on BYU's first possession of the second half, which put them up 42-10. Allgeier surpassed 1,000 yards on the season, becoming the first 1,000 yard rusher for BYU since Jamaal Williams in 2016.
In all, BYU put together 655 yards of offense, winning the duel of two top-ten offenses in the FBS. The Cougars finish the 2020 season with 6,267 total yards of offense, tops in the nation.
The UCF offense couldn't get out of first gear all night, in route to perhaps its worst performance on offense all season.
"I didn't think offensively we did a good job obviously," Heupel said. "And the statistics show that throughout the course of the first half and early second as well."
UCF was able to muster up 411 total yards of offense, but some of that was aided by two late touchdowns with the game out of reach.
Quarterback Dillon Gabriel had perhaps his worst performance as a Knight, completing 21/45 of his pass attempts for 217 yards and two score. Gabriel also had a stretch where he threw eight incompletions in a row.
Despite not being sacked, Gabriel faced pressured consistently and often times had to scramble and throw it away, a sight that grew on as the game continued on.
Gabriel was without his security blanket, receiver Marlon Williams who opted out of playing in the bowl game to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. In Williams' absence, senior receiver Jacob Harris led the Knights in receiving with four catches for 67 yards and a 21-yard score in the third quarter.
In his last game as a Knight, running back Greg McCrae was a consistent presence for the offense, running for 77 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Also playing in his last game was fellow tailback Otis Anderson. Anderson had 73 yards on 16 carries.
McCrae said he took a lot from his four years, and gained a family for years to come.
"I take the brotherhood that we have here, the bond that I built with people in this building," McCrae said. "The coaches, the players, support staff, trainers, everything is a family forever."
Heupel said that the loss hurts but said that the team will have to take it and learn from it.
"This one should stay with us all offseason, and up until kickoff at the beginning of next season," Heupel said. "We got to be better. There's a way to prepare and the purpose and the way that you work all off season to give yourself a chance to have the type of season that we want to."