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UCF topples over Kent State 56-6 as new member of the Big-12

The UCF Knights defeated the Kent State Golden Flashes 56-6 in the Knights first game as a Big-12 conference member.


This season will mark the fourth conference the Knights will be a part of since being established back in 1979. UCF were affiliated with the Mid-American Conference (’02-’04), Conference USA (’05-’12), American Athletic Conference (’13-’22) and now the Big-12 (’23-present). 2023 is also the third season that former Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is at the helm (’21-present), as he holds a 19-9 overall record with the Knights.


The Knights were led by senior dual-threat quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, who enters his second season with UCF. Plumlee posted a stat line of 281 passing yards, 3 touchdowns (one rushing, two passing), 90 rushing yards while completing 73 percent of his passes before being taken out in the 4th quarter. The Knights rushing attack was on full display during the affair. Senior running back Johnny Richardson accounted for 100 rushing yards, senior running back RJ Harvey rushed for 84 rush yards and two touchdowns (one rushing and one receiving), junior halfback Demarkus Bowman ran for 46 yards and a touchdown and sophomore rusher Jordan McDonald and senior rusher Mark-Antony Richards each added a touchdown. Sophomore wideout Xavier Townsend led the pass catching room with 5 receptions for 81 reception yards and a touchdown with an average of 16.2 yards per catch. Senior tight-end Alec Holler also contributed with a touchdown reception. New UCF offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw, who formerly served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at UAB, led a balanced offensive scheme but continued to lean on the run game as Kent State’s rush defense was fragile.

Image featuring UCF Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. Image courtesy of UCF Athletics.com

Kent State trotted out a new head coach in Kenni Burns, who enters his first season at the helm. Burns was formerly the running backs and assistant head coach at Minnesota before signing with the Golden Flashes shortly after the 2022 season. The Golden Flashes had 11 new offensive starters along with junior quarterback Michael Alaimo, who made his first collegiate start in the game. Alaimo accounted for 145 passing yards with an average of 4.7 yards per attempt and an interception. On the ground, sophomore halfback Gavin Garcia accumulated 45 rushing yards on 18 attempts. Sophomore pass catcher Chrishon McCray had 3 receptions for 61 reception yards with an average of 20.3 yards per catch as he led the Golden Flashes pass catching room.


UCF dominated the matchup from start to finish. The Knights received possession of the ball first and immediately scored a touchdown on a 9-play 75-yard drive led by Plumlee. Plumlee and the offense ran an up-tempo style that kept the Kent State defenders on their toes. Townsend scored the first touchdown on the night with a 9-yard touchdown reception from Plumlee.

Image featuring UCF wideout Xavier Townsend. Image courtesy of UCF Athletics.

Alaimo and the Golden Flashes went on a quick 3 and out as the Kent State quarterback looked visibly nervous and didn’t seem comfortable in the pocket. Plumlee and the UCF offense went on a 6-play 59-yard drive in their next possession that was capped off with a 17-yard rushing touchdown by Plumlee that gave the Knights an early 14-0 lead.


The Golden Flashes next drive was promising, as Alaimo connected with McCray on a crossing route that went for 74 yards, but was called back due to an ineligible downfield pass penalty. They eventually got into striking distance but had to settle for a 45-yard field goal which was successful by junior kicker Andrew Glass. UCF led 14-3 at the 3:20 mark in the first quarter.


Plumlee led the offense on another fluid drive downfield that featured a 32-yard run by the UCF quarterback. Kent State continued to struggle to defend the Knights rushing attack, but forced a fumble by Plumlee which was recovered by the defense. Despite the dominant outing by the Knights, Plumee did display carelessness with the football.


Kent State’s next offensive possession featured Alaimo rush for a first down after converting a crucial 3rd and 8. The Golden Flashes got to the UCF 34-yard line before being forced to attempt a 44-yard field goal which was missed by Glass.


UCF started their next drive at their own 26 yard-line, and it was capped off with a 2-yd rushing touchdown by McDonald that gave the Knights a 21-3 lead. After a 3 and out by the Kent State offense, Plumlee threw a surprising interception to defensive back D.J Miller Jr, which led to the second turnover by the former Ole Miss quarterback in the game.


Alaimo and the Kent State offense went on another strong drive downfield, but it came to an abrupt end when Alaimo threw an interception to defensive back DeJordan Mask at the 1:48 mark in the second quarter.


Plumlee led the offense on an 8-play 94-yard drive that ended in a touchdown pass to senior tight-end Alec Holler that gave UCF a 28-3 lead at halftime. The Knights racked up 205 rushing yards with an average of 7.8 yards per attempt in the first half.

Image featuring UCF Tight-End Alec Holler (#82). Image courtesy of UCF Athletics.com

Alaimo and Kent State had possession of the ball to begin the second half, and the Golden Flashes quarterback continued to struggle with long distances passes. After moving the chains once, Kent State punted the ball back to the Knights where they continued to move the ball at will. The Knights offense went on a 5-play 78-yard drive that featured a 50-yard reception that resulted in a touchdown by Harvey from Plumlee. UCF led 35-3 at the 10:47 mark in the 3rd quarter.


After two scoreless possessions from Kent State and one from UCF, the Knights next scoring possession came at the 4:07 minute mark in the 3rd quarter when Harvey rushed for a 48-yard touchdown that made the score 42-3. Kent State finished their next drive with a successful 42-yard field goal attempt by Glass, which made the score 42-6 going into the 4th quarter.


Plumlee had his third turnover of the game on the Knight’s next offensive possession by throwing his second interception to linebacker Nick Giacolone while in the redzone. The dual-sport pass thrower (also plays baseball) had a productive showing, but Hinshaw and Malzahn will surely address his decision making and ball security as the season progresses. This was the final UCF offensive possession that featured Plumlee.


The Knights offense went on to score two more times (7:26 mark in 4th quarter, rushing touchdown by senior rusher Mark-Antony Richards and a rushing touchdown by Bowman at the 1:01 mark in 4th quarter) which made the final score 56-6. The Knights racked up 723 yards of total offense while the Golden Flashes only accumulated 240 total yards.


UCF will travel to take on Boise State next weekend (Sept 9) while Kent State will hit the road to face the SEC’s Arkansas Razorbacks (Sept 9).

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