UCF football led 42-10 early in the fourth quarter against South Carolina State on Thursday, but despite the disparity in the scoreline at such a late stage, Knights starting quarterback John Rhys Plumlee stayed in the game.
Although there was a risk in keeping Plumlee on the field with the game under control, the Ole Miss transfer simply needed the experience.
The 56-10 season-opening win over SC State was, of course, his first start at quarterback since November 2019.
“I needed to get some game reps for sure,” UCF offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. “In practice, you usually get to 4 or 5 moves in a row, and then the next group comes in. In a scrimmage, sometimes you don’t get as many long passes as you’d like.
“He did a great job handling the information,” Lindsey added.
On his final drive, Plumlee threw for his fourth touchdown by finding tight end Zach Marsh Wojan in the back of the end zone on a 21-yard pass.
His overall performance of 308 passing yards and 4 passing scores marked Plumlee’s career highs. He also ran for a touchdown.
“For his first game, I thought he did a lot of really good things,” Lindsey said. “After rating the movie, obviously [there were] on some things, he and I agreed, ‘Hey, we’ve got to clean these things up if we’re going to keep moving forward.’ But I am very excited about what he did.”
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While the majority of his passes were short-yard attempts, Plumlee was more accurate when making mid-range passes between 5 and 14 yards. On those plays, he was 6-for-6 for 68 yards and 1 touchdown.
“Throwing the ball out, he did a great job with some touch releases on a couple of wheel routes that we hit for touchdowns,” Lindsey said. “For most of it, he got the ball out of his hands pretty quickly. It means that he is processing and making very good quick decisions.
“Obviously, he made some plays with his feet when plays failed, which is something he’s going to continue to do for us,” Lindsey added.
UCF’s next opponent, Louisville, also features a dual-threat quarterback.
Last year on the road, UCF allowed Malik Cunningham to throw for 265 yards and 1 touchdown and rush for 99 yards while scoring twice on the ground. Louisville won 42-35.
UCF defensive coordinator Travis Williams remembers Cunningham’s performance all too well.
“If we could sneak away 12 [players] out there, that might help us,” Williams joked. “The guy is dynamic. He is dynamic with his feet and arm. We have our hands full. We have to prepare and have a good game plan for him.”
The Knights did a solid job of slowing down the run against SC State, holding the Bulldogs to just 35 yards, but Williams knows there is room for improvement and a challenging task ahead.
“We did a good job stopping the race,” Williams said. “There were times when we have to be better in our holes. Start ahead. We have to stop the race and everything else will take care of itself. Being able to get our gaps under control is something we have to work on this week.”
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UCF could have a lead on Louisville before the game even starts, and that’s the time to prepare. The Knights won at home on Thursday night while the Cardinals lost 31-7 on the road to Syracuse on Saturday night.
“It gives us a little bit more time to prepare for them,” Williams said of the overtime. “We need every second we can to prepare. It is a team that we respect. Preparation is the key.
“Like I told the defense, the biggest game was South Carolina State,” he added. “The biggest game going forward is Louisville because that’s the next game. If we prepare, we will be ready.”
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While most of the UCF newcomers watched the field against SC State, a couple of defensive players missed the game.
Real freshman Ja’Cari Henderson, who was listed on the team’s starting depth chart as a backup cornerback behind Davonte Brown, didn’t dress for the game.
“Ja’Cari is good,” Williams said. “We just wanted to hug him. He had something bothering him a little bit, but he’ll be ready to roll.”
Auburn defensive tackle transfer Lee Hunter, who was not on the first two-deep depth chart, also did not play.
“He had a little problem bugging him, but he’ll be back next week,” Williams said.
UCF hosts Louisville Friday night at 7:30 pm on ESPN2 inside FBC Mortgage Stadium.
Email Jason Beede at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @therealBeede.