AKRON, Ohio (AP)—Turnovers ruined Terry Bowden’s first try at turning around Akron’s football program.
Central Florida had four takeaways and Blake Bortles passed for 168 yards and three touchdowns as the Knights ruined Bowden’s coaching debut at Akron, routing the mistake-prone Zips 56-14 in the season opener for both teams Thursday night.
“Not a lot of mysteries as to why they won,” Bowden said following his much-anticipated return to major college football 19 years after the end of his short but successful run at Auburn.
“They played better,” Bowden said. “We would have had to be about perfect to win, but we turned the ball over.”
Akron lost three fumbles, including two inside its own 10-yard line, and also had an interception.
“Getting those turnovers was huge,” Knights coach George O’Leary said after UCF’s seventh straight season-opening win.
Bowden came to Akron after guiding North Alabama to a 29-9 record the past three seasons in Division II following 10 years as a TV analyst. Prior to that, he went 47-17-1 at Auburn, going undefeated his first year in 1993.
The energetic Bowden said it was a day of anxiety and, though the young Zips lost badly, he was proud of their tenacity.
“No matter what happened, it was the start of a push to turn this program around,” Bowden said.
Akron, 1-11 in each of the past two years, couldn’t keep up with the bigger and stronger Knights, who built a 35-0 halftime lead.
Latavius Murray gained 108 yards with one score on 14 carries, playing little more than one quarter. He rushed for 68 yards on UCF’s opening drive of 73 yards, and Murray’s 2-yard run later made it 14-0.
“(Murray) had a sore shoulder, and we wanted to see some other backs, too,” O’Leary said of his running back’s limited time.
O’Leary said he wanted to throw the ball even more and will try to put in a few more passing plays for the Knights’ second game against Ohio State.
“We look forward to the opportunity,” he said. “We’ll have to play our ‘A’ game.”
Akron ran 81 plays under Bowden’s spread offense, which surprised even Williams.
“Eighty-one … ” he said. “That shows we are playing at a high tempo and that we have bought into coach Bowden’s philosophy.”
Bowden knows it won’t be easy. Akron hasn’t had a winning season since going 7-6 in 2005.
“We’re going to win some and we’re going to get thumped some,” he said. “But I felt some excitement from the fans. I told them to buy season tickets. That way, they’ll see them all because we’re going to get better.”