Entering Wednesday’s Military Bowl contest, Gus Malzahn’s UCF club averaged over 480 yards per contest which ranked the Knights 10th amongst all FBS programs. However, the Knights’ high-powered offense failed to get out of first gear as Duke (9-4, 5-3) spent the majority of their 30-13 victory stifling the UCF (9-5, 6-2) offense.
After the Knights’ opening drive resulted in a punt, the Blue Devils opened the scoring with a nine-play, 87-yard drive powered by running back Jaylen Coleman’s 37-yard run on second down to put Duke in UCF territory — followed by a 17-yard score by backup running back Jaquez Moore.
Malzahn’s club evened the game a seven on the game’s next drive. UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee marched his team 75 yards in just over five minutes of gameplay, rushing for 28 yards on the drive that ended with senior running back Isaiah Bowser punching it in from one-yard out on third down.
Arguably, the game was decided in a second quarter that saw Duke outscore UCF 13-0 while holding the nation’s 10th-ranked offense to just 48 yards of total offense — with just seven passing yards.
Blue Devils kicker Todd Pelino connected from 22 yards out to give Duke a 10-7 lead with 6:28 left in the second quarter. On the Knights’ ensuing drive, Plumlee used his legs to scramble for a gain of 15, but was stripped by Duke safety Brandon Johnson at the Blue Devils 42.
Leonard would account for 49 of the 58 yards on the Blue Devils next drive that ended with the sophomore quarterback scoring on a one-yard touchdown rush to put Duke ahead 17-7. On the day, Leonard finished 19-of-28 passing for 173 yards and added 63 yards on 10 attempts and two touchdowns on the ground, finishing as the game’s leading rusher.
Looking to respond, the Knights’ offense were sent to the bench on a three-and-out by a Blue Devils defense that allowed just 163 yards through three quarters and a total of 326 — most of which came playing prevent defense in the fourth quarter.
Pelino connected on a 48-yarder just before halftime to close the first-half scoring with Duke ahead 20-7.
The game’s most pivotal drive for the Knights came with 4:25 left in the third quarter, down 23-7. Following a short 26-yard punt from Duke punter Porter Wilson, UCF took over at the Duke 32-yard-line. UCF’s offensive sequence saw running back R.J. Harvey rush for one yard and Plumlee hit Xavier Townsend on back-to-back plays to bring up a 4th-and-1 situation.
On fourth down, Plumlee appeared to be caught between choosing to rush for a first down and dropping the ball off to Townsend. As he scrambled towards the first-down marker, Plumlee at the last min hit Townsend, who was unable to stretch the ball beyond the first-down line, resulting in a turnover on downs.
After forcing a punt, the UCF offense went into a hurry-up offense and Plumlee led the Knights on an 11-play, 91-yard drive that ended with Bowser’s second score of the day. Plumlee finished the afternoon 21-of-34 for 182 yards with one interception and added 21 yards as a rusher but spent the majority of the game under duress from the Duke defense, which sacked him six times, led by linebacker Cam Dillon’s nine-tackle, two-sack outing.
On Duke’s penultimate drive of the game, Leonard scored his second rushing touchdown to put the game out of reach and earned game MVP honors.