ORLANDO, Fla. – The UCF coaching staff is hoping the Knights continue to play offense with the confidence they displayed during the upset of Louisville last week.
The late-game 75-yard touchdown drive against the Cardinals not only wound up being the game-winner, but was a huge growth-spurt for a young offense in its on-going maturation process.
For the 21st-ranked Knights (5-1, 2-0 American Athletic Conference), coach George O'Leary said that will be particularly beneficial for junior quarterback Blake Bortles the remainder of the season. UCF hosts winless Connecticut on Saturday.
"I think basically he takes things in stride," O'Leary said. "He's not a kid that ever gets too high or too low. I think the South Carolina game he started feeling sorry for himself in the second half. And that's something I spoke to him about. You go as your quarterback goes. You can't be having that broke-jaw thing on the sideline. It doesn't work."
Bortles threw for a season-high 358 yards against South Carolina, but had two costly interceptions that helped the Gamecocks hang on for a 3-point win.
"I think he's improved since then," O'Leary said. "He'll never be a captain. Quarterbacks are captains. They're the leaders of your team. I think that last drive he took down the field against a very talented Louisville team basically was a thing of beauty."
Where some young quarterbacks often become reliant on a favorite receiver or two, Bortles continues to spread the ball around to his receiving corps. Seven different receivers caught passes against the Cardinals.
Bortles said his pass selection is less by design and more attributable to their success in making the most out of the Knights' schemes.
"It just goes to show how talented they are and how versatile our offense can be," Bortles said. "It's play-specific, read-specific, and it shows how good they are that we can plug any guy in there. They can possibly get the ball on any play and they know that."
UCF offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said that's why the final drive in the Louisville games sticks out for him because though Bortles was the catalyst, the entire unit contributed.
"The communication was good, the guys executed extremely well in crunch time," Taaffe said. "Obviously your quarterback is the leader. The quarterback's kind of the barometer for the offense. If he's panicking and freaking out and there's no poise, then the other guys are going to pick up on that.
"His demeanor probably helps him in a situation like that, because he's not a real Type-A kind of guy...His teammates believe in him, he's earned their respect and you would expect that in this stage of his career and he stepped up an delivered."
Taaffe said that all of Bortles' cumulative experiences — good and bad — throughout this season led up to him being able to produce against Louisville. He's also already seeing that filter down to others in the unit.
The Knights' offensive line held Louisville without a sack a week after the Cardinals had a season-high eight at Rutgers. And running back Storm Johnson wreaked havoc on Louisville's defense with a season-high 188 all-purpose yards.
O'Leary said Johnson, who sometimes has been hesitant with the ball, "finally moved the ball north and south, made good cuts and caught the ball well."
O'Leary went as far as to say his performance was "his best game since he's been here."
With that bar set now for Johnson and the rest of the offense, Bortles said there's no secret about what the approach is going forward.
"Keeping that edge," he said. "We got into the position where we can control our own destiny, which is huge. We're tied at the top of the conference right now. Just to be able to stay focused and stay sharp week in and week out is the biggest thing. We can't have any letdowns, and just got to make sure that we're doing what we're supposed to do."
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