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Bortles, UCF rout Rutgers, remain atop AAC

The SportsXchange

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Central Florida finally made it easy on its fans and coaches, hammering Rutgers 41-17 Thursday night to retain control of the American Athletic Conference and the school's first chance at a BCS bowl game.

Eighteenth-ranked UCF, which earned last-second wins in its previous two games, dominated Rutgers from start to finish. The home team rolled up a 455-221 edge in yardage and almost a 17-minute advantage in time of possession.

Quarterback Blake Bortles threw for 335 yards and a touchdown for Central Florida (9-1, 6-0 AAC), and running back Storm Johnson rushed for two scores.

Bortles completed 21 of 30 passes and had five dropped, including two in the end zone, as he marched UCF up and down the field at will.

Johnson gained 75 yards on 16 carries, scoring on runs of 12 yards and 1 yard.

"I think the team needed this kind of game," UCF coach George O'Leary said. "Luck runs out on you. Talent usually wins, and with the exception of a couple of special teams mishaps, I thought we were exceptional."

"There were times it felt like we could call any play we wanted and make it work," said UCF wide receiver J.J. Worton, who had the game-tying catch in the final minute against Temple last week, then added five catches for 117 yards against Rutgers. "We were just executing everything the way we practiced. We didn't want it to come down to the last play again this time."

Rutgers (5-5, 2-4) entered the game with the 10th-rated rushing defense in the nation, and it did a good job stopping the ground game, but it could not get Bortles and UCF's offense off the field on third down. UCF converted nine of 13 third-down opportunities, punted only once in each half and had four scoring drives of 69 yards or longer.

"Their quarterback (Bortles) is an exceptional player and excellent decision-maker," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "There were times where we dropped into coverage and he scrambled and made plays with his feet. We had opportunities to get him on the ground and couldn't do it."

Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova, by contrast, had the opposite kind of night. Nova was 11 of 34 for just 107 yards. Michael Burton was the team's leading rusher with 38 yards, all on one carry. The Scarlet Knights' offense finished 3-for-14 on third down and might not have scored if not for converting three of four chances on fourth down.

"I am not concerned because I watch how our team plays until the end of the game," Flood said. "You see guys giving tremendous effort. I don't see a team that is discouraged."

Placekicker Shawn Moffitt kicked field goals of 32 and 42 yards for UCF, which leads Louisville and Cincinnati by a game in the conference. UCF has two AAC games, against South Florida (2-7, 2-3) and SMU (4-5, 3-2), still to play.

UCF scored touchdowns on its first four possessions of the game, meeting little resistance from the Rutgers defense along the way.

By halftime, Central Florida had a 277-104 advantage in total offense and nearly double Rutgers' time of possession. However, two critical mistakes kept the game from being a runaway at that point.

UCF allowed Rutgers to convert two fourth-down opportunities that led to one touchdown and then gave up a blocked punt with 15 seconds left in the half that Rutgers fell on in the end zone to cut its deficit to 28-14.

"I'll take the blame for that," O'Leary said of the blocked punt just before halftime. "We're up 28-7 and doing pretty much everything we want so just take a knee and let the time run out. That was my fault."

Burton got the first fourth-down conversion, turning a fake punt on fourth-and-10 into a 38-yard run that gave Rutgers a first down at UCF's 21-yard line. Rutgers had a fourth-and-goal at the UCF 1 when running back Paul James picked his way through the left side for a touchdown.

Just before halftime, freshman cornerback Anthony Cioffi blocked a punt that careened 24 yards behind UCF punter Caleb Houson, landing in the end zone, where Rutgers receiver Andre Patton fell on it.

Bortles started UCF's scoring, scrambling away from pressure to find wide receiver Breshad Perriman in the corner of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown pass. Bortles was 3 of 3 for 48 yards on the 69-yard drive.

Bortles completed three more passes on UCF's next possession to put his team at the Rutgers 12. Johnson rammed it in from there, breaking three tackles on a 12-yard burst through the middle.

UCF went 86 yards on 14 plays on its third possession, eating up 7:12 on the clock. Freshman running back William Stanback provided the highlight when he barreled over Cioffi on a flare pass, turning it into a 20-yard gain. Four plays later, Johnson scored from 1 yard out.

Bortles added the Knights' fourth touchdown on a 7-yard scramble to end an 11-play, 79-yard drive. UCF led 28-7 at that point.

NOTES: Rutgers blocked 35 kicks since 2009, the most in the nation. ... Rutgers made its 13th appearance on ESPN's Thursday night football. It was UCF's first appearance on Thursday night since a 2005 game against South Carolina. ... In his previous two games, Central Florida TB Storm Johnson has a career-best 127 yards rushing against Houston and a career-high 73-yard run against Temple.
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