Freshman quarterback Timmy McClain scrambled up the middle for a first down at the UCF 3-yard line as just seconds remained in the game Friday. The Bulls hustled to the line and spiked the ball with 11 ticks to play down 17-13.
Then chaos ensued. McClain took the snap on second down and looked into the end zone for an open receiver before being brought down by UCF junior defensive lineman Tre’mon Morris-Brash for a sack that would’ve, in normal circumstances, likely ended the game without controversy.
There were eight seconds on the clock when McClain’s knee hit the turf, leaving very little time for the USF offense to get set and spike the ball before the clock expired. What drew debate, however, was the fact that McClain released the ball just moments after his knee touched the ground in a last-ditch effort to avoid the sack.
A UCF defender caught the fluttering ball and time expired during his return, but due to McClain being down before letting go of the ball, it wasn’t actually an interception. Although it was unlikely to occur, the Bulls were never even given the chance to get up and spike the ball before the clock hit zero. The referees reviewed the play and ultimately determined the game was over.
“I don’t understand that part of the rule with a 10-second runoff,” coach Jeff Scott said. “I understand what a 10-second runoff is meant to be, but in that situation, there would have been eight seconds on the clock. If they had not let the play go on and all the people running on the field and all that stuff, there would have been eight seconds, we would have had a chance to get [set] and spike the ball and have one more throw to the end zone.
“What their explanation was, if the time ever expires, then there’s automatically a 10-second runoff if they go to put the time back on. I don’t know the reasoning for that, but I will give them credit that they stated that from the very beginning … and ultimately that’s what it was at the end.”
The peculiar ending could have been avoided, however, if McClain had thrown the ball away once he saw the play wasn’t there before Morris-Brash brought him down. Scott noted that, but also highlighted how the narrative would be much different if McClain was able to use his craftiness to score on the play prior.
“Timmy’s a guy who’s made a lot of plays,” Scott said. “[We would have been happy] if he would’ve squirted through there and scored before it would’ve happened … He’ll learn from that, but we would’ve liked if it wasn’t there to be able to throw it away and live for one more play.
“That was just the last play, there’s a lot of other plays leading up to that offensively that we could’ve executed, maybe got a touchdown instead of a field goal, [but] that one hurts because it’s right there at the end.”
There were eight penalties assessed to the Bulls, about three infractions over their season average of 4.8 per game. Many of those flags were delay of games or false starts which ended up severely hurting USF’s chances of winning.
One drive in particular stick outs, a nine-play, 38-yard offensive possession that was halted in the Knights’ red zone. The Bulls lined up on the UCF 3-yard for a third-and-2, but a false start pushed them back to the 8-yard line and a sack immediately after that forced them to settle for a field goal.
There was clearly some confusion before the snap, as the play clock wound down to nearly zero and there appeared to be little sense of urgency to get the play going.
“We had some penalties there late, just some illegal procedures and things that really got us off our rhythm,” Scott said.
USF’s defense was a main storyline throughout the contest. The unit came into the game ranked 125th out of 130 teams in total yards allowed per game and 120th in average points allowed.
Former defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer was fired Sunday and linebackers coach Ernie Sims and special teams coordinator Daniel Da Prato took over the defensive coaching duties against the Knights.
The Bulls held UCF to 285 total yards, as well as winning time of possession 35:09 to 24:51.
“I was with the defense all week long, and coach Sims, coach Da Prato, coach [George] Barlow [and] coach [Da’Quan] Bowers, they worked together, they were up until after midnight two or three of the nights this week,” Scott said. “The biggest thing I told them was, ‘Let’s just put our guys in position to have a chance.’
“We had one less day to prepare and some new wrinkles, some new blitzes, some new coverages, and the guys bought into it. They took the time to come in here and learn it, that was very encouraging coming off what happened last week [against Tulane].”
As Scott ends his second year as coach, he said he is proud of the way his team responded not only against UCF, but in the season as a whole.
“[I was proud] of the way [the players] responded [and] the way that they fought,” Scott said. “It’s going to pay off. It’s not going to be a gradual deal when we do break through, it’s going to shoot up fast and we’re going to be in a position to have sustainable success, I firmly believe that.
“In a day in age when it’s so easy to quit … It’s very, very uncommon the way that [the players have] continued to show back up. I just know and believe that’s going to pay off. This one will hurt, and just like I told Timmy, ‘Soak it all in, it’s going to hurt, but we’re going to be back, and you’re going to be back.’”