After taking a big step toward its first BCS bowl berth, UCF will try to maintain sole possession of the American Athletic Conference lead when it faces last-place Temple for the first time Saturday.
No. 17 UCF (7-1, 4-0) leaned on its defense to hand Houston its first conference loss last Saturday, forcing two incomplete passes from the 7-yard line in the final 24 seconds of a 19-14 win.
"I thought defensively, to hold that team to 14 points, and (to have) a great play at the end of the game to save the win, that was a big-time team win," coach George O'Leary said. "It was a win that we were looking for."
The victory helped the Knights reach their highest spot in the AP rankings in program history. Perhaps more importantly, it also left them as the only unbeaten team in the AAC, whose winner gets an automatic BCS berth.
O'Leary is refusing to look that far ahead.
"You won't even hear me mention that,'' he said. "I'll be talking about Temple. We've got to get up each and every week and take care of one game at a time."
UCF would appear to have enough to take care of Temple (1-8, 0-5), but the Owls are coming off a close loss in their latest game Nov. 2 at Rutgers. They gave up the winning 33-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 35 seconds to go in a 23-20 defeat.
The loss was Temple's second in a row following a 33-14 win over Army in its most recent home game Oct. 19. The Owls blew a 21-point lead in the second quarter against SMU a week later and gave up a program-worst 728 yards in a 59-49 defeat, including 538 through the air.
"I wouldn't say we're angry, more hungry. We kind of let two (games) get away the last two weeks," senior receiver Ryan Alderman said. "We're really ready for a big one. This is a good opportunity for us. We're looking to make the most out of what we have left."
UCF's Blake Bortles enters this game as the FBS' 10th-rated passer (164.1) but didn't have one of his better games against Houston. He threw for 210 yards - his second-lowest total of the season - was picked off for the fifth time and didn't connect on a touchdown after a career-high four TDs in a 62-17 rout of Connecticut on Oct. 26.
Bortles is hoping to have leading receiver Breshad Perriman available. Perriman, who has 567 yards, was carted off the field in the fourth quarter last week after a hit that drew a targeting penalty.
O'Leary said after the game that he was unsure of Perriman's status against Temple.
If Perriman has to sit out, the Knights might rely more on what's been a formidable rushing attack of late. UCF is averaging 186.7 yards on the ground in the last three games, easily the best in the conference over that stretch.
Storm Johnson gained 127 of his team's 188 rushing yards against Houston while William Stanback ran for 74 on nine carries and two touchdowns, both in the second half.
Temple has the second-best mark since Oct. 18 at 164.7 rushing yards per game, and freshman Zaire Williams has a team-leading 226 over that span.
Fellow running back Kenneth Harper had two of his team-best 11 touchdowns in the loss at Rutgers. Robby Anderson had four receptions for 57 yards and a TD after catching nine passes for a school-record 239 yards and two scores against SMU.
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