AKRON, Ohio — UCF coach George O’Leary savored the moment.
He signed an autograph for a fan, chatted with veteran coaching friend
and cracked jokes during postgame interviews.
The Knights opened the 2012 season with a show of offensive force.
UCF is unrefined, but its talent was undeniable Thursday night.
The Knights (1-0) used superior athleticism to pummel Akron (0-1), rolling to a 56-14 win over the Zips Thursday night. The season opener was streamed online at ESPN3.com.
“Normally that first game, you're sloppy and all that,” O’Leary said.”We had our moments out there. But for the most part, we basically executed out there on the offense and on the defense. You had some plays you'd like back on offense and defensively some missed tackle plays, but overall I thought the kids took to coaching and went and did what the game plan called for.”
UCF raced out to a 35-0 halftime lead. The Knights kept attacking the overmatched Zips, easily pushing the score to 41-7 in the third quarter.
O’Leary sent in his reserves, including Missouri transfer quarterback Tyler Gabbert making his college game-day debut, and the Knights kept putting points on the board without really delving that deep into their playbook.
The Knights entered the contest eager to avenge the disappointing 2011 season. UCF had comparable talent, but a series of mistakes and internal strife contributed to the team finishing the year with a 5-7 record.
“I'm just happy for the win,” UCF senior safety Kemal Ishmael said. “We went out there. We showed some good things, we did some bad things. Everything's correctable, but we played a good game.”
The passion showed on the field.
The Knights used a heavy ground attack to run through and over a much weaker Akron defensive lineup.
UCF outgained Akron 141-17 on the ground in the first half, then added more passing plays in the second half.
Senior Latavius Murray, who is part of an ultra-competitive rushing rotation, did his best cement his role as the Knights' starter. He racked up 108 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries during the first half alone.
O’Leary said Murray suffered a bruised shoulder and he opted to rest his starter, giving some of the talented reserves he wanted to see play more time on the field.
Sophomore Rannell Hall said entering the contest he was eager to show he could be more than a kickoff return threat.
Hall delivered, scoring off an 18-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Blake Bortles in the second quarter, pushing the Knights ahead 28-0.
Bortles, who earned a win in his first career college start, connected with Hall again for a 56-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. It was a career-long pass and reception for both Bortles and Hall, respectively. The play pushed UCF ahead 42-7 with 5:28 left in the third quarter and slammed the door on any chance for an Akron rally.
UCF set the tone for a powerful offensive attack early, efficiently marching down the field on its opening drive. The Knights racked up 73 yards on eight plays.
The game offered a bit of redemption for former UCF starting quarterbacks
and Rob Calabrese, who both played well.
Godfrey returned to the program after a tumultuous sophomore season and agreed to accept a different role at the receiver position, while Calabrese was returning from his second torn ACL injury. Godfrey made plays in space, while Calabrese used an acrobatic move to haul in a touchdown pass from Gabbert.
“It was a good feeling,” Calabrese said.
UCF’s special teams unit, which had been a liability last season, forced a turnover instead of committing one Thursday night.
Ishmael had nine tackles and one special teams fumble recovery.
Senior cornerback A.J. Bouye, another player returning from a knee injury, forced a fumble, and senior defensive end Cam Henderson recovered a fumble.
“We’re happy,” Bouye said. “. .. We’re just planning to get better every week.”