At a final score of 61-17, we can’t really overstate how much better UCF looked than FIU. For UCF, it was exactly what you want to see in a cupcake-style opener. The Knights offense cruised and with a dominating early first half lead, there was plenty of opportunities for the back-ups to get playing experience.
UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton looked phenomenal, going 16/21 for 360 yards and four passing touchdowns. The sophomore showed a lot of trust for his receivers, especially Tre’Quan Smith (who had two touchdown receptions and drew so – many – pass interference penalties by overmatched FIU DBs). Milton sat with 8:21 left to go in the third quarter and the Knights up 47-10, opening the opportunity for freshman Noah Vedral to finish out the game. The sole egregious error on Milton’s part was a terrible interception across the middle in the first half. And given Milton’s otherwise stellar performance, it was an easy error to overlook.
Vedral was far from the only UCF freshman to get meaningful play time in a game that was out of (FIU’s) hand so early. Much-heralded freshman running back Cordarrian Richardson came in when Vedral did and displayed some hard running. He pounded in a touchdown on his first drive to put the Knights up 54-10. Wide receiver Otis Anderson looked sharp despite stats that were not gaudy. Anderson arguably should have had a long touchdown reception but – according to the refs – failed to maintain control of the ball. And Gabriel Davis exceled with four receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown. Clearly the love was spread around. A total of thirteen different Knights caught passes. Four different running backs had touchdowns.
The UCF defense mostly contained FIU after the early going. The Knights defense earned a safety in the first half. Safeties Tre Neal and Kyle Gibson each had long turnover returns. Neal’s was an interception returned for twenty-nine yards, while Gibson scooped a fumble and ran it back for thirty-six yards. Though say this for FIU’s offensive line – they gave up only a single sack (by Alabama transfer Shawn Burgess-Becker). Perhaps fittingly, Burgess-Becker’s hit forced a fumble the Knights fell on to end the game.
There was much to love about the aggressive calls by the UCF coaching staff throughout. UCF went for two after the opening touchdown (and got the points). The Knights went for for it four times on fourth and two-or-less (and converted each time). And Frost used timeouts very late in the second half to give the Knights another possession (which ended in a Matthew Wright field goal to put the Knights up 40-10).
We couldn’t see much of FIU this game, the Panthers were obscured by all the yellow flags. That’s being only a little facetious. The squad’s discipline started badly with key defensive back Niko Gonzalez getting ejected for targeting and melted down further as the game wore on. FIU wound up penalized a total of thirteen times for 153 yards.
The Panthers did manage to cobble together a few highlights. Alex McGough’s perfectly thrown seventy-five yard touchdown pass to Thomas Owens in the first quarter made it look like FIU might have a pulse. And in garbage time (which had begun early in the third quarter), Napoleon Maxwell had a great looking but utterly meaningless touchdown run. Overall it was a profoundly embarrassing outing for the Panthers and not remotely what FIU fans wanted out of Butch Davis’s debut.
UCF now looks forward to what should be a shootout against AAC West offensive juggernaut Memphis.
Not sure what FIU has to look forward to, but the Panthers play Alcorn State next.
 He also slid down in bounds with time winding down in the first half instead of getting out to stop the clock.