3 things learned from UCF’s blowout of Villanova

Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel/TNS

UCF wrapped up the nonconference part of its schedule, with backup quarterback Timmy McClain earning his first start with the Knights after transferring last season from USF.

A product of Sanford Seminole High, he filled in for starter John Rhys Plumlee, who injured his leg during the Knights’ win over Boise State last week. McClain led a rout of Villanova on Saturday night, 48-14.

Plumlee won’t be available when UCF travels to Kansas State next week to open Big 12 play.

Here are three things we learned from the win:

McClain can run the offense

McClain settled down following a shaky start to complete 71% of his pass attempts (20 of 28) for 321 yards and two touchdowns. He was 14 of 17 from midway through the second quarter through the start of the fourth quarter.

“We wanted to let him run our offense and develop within the offense. It’s easy to line up and try to run,” said coach Gus Malzahn. “We wanted him to play and develop and really felt like he did that.”

The redshirt sophomore led UCF on scoring drives on eight of the first 11 possessions as the Knights built up a 41-0 lead going into the fourth quarter.

McClain’s big-play ability was even more impressive as he had six pass plays of 20-plus yards against the Wildcats.

He finished with 44 yards on nine carries, including a 19-yard run resulting from a botched handoff.

“When stuff like that happens, I just go back to playing backyard football,” said McClain. “I bobbled the snap and I was just like, ‘Oh my God,’ and I went back to playing backyard football which is what I’ve always been good at.”

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Defense has been a pleasant surprise

UCF held another team to less than 20 points for the third consecutive game, allowing Villanova just 228 yards. It was a season-low for the team and the fewest yards allowed since 91 against South Carolina State early last season.

“The first half was a thing of beauty by our defense,” said Malzahn. “They only had 24 total snaps, which was really unheard of. We had an interception that we almost ran back for a touchdown, eventually leading to a touchdown.”

The Knights held the Wildcats to just 38 yards in the first half and quarterback Connor Watkins was 1 of 9 for 1 yard through the first 30 minutes. Sophomore safety Nikai Martinez picked off Watkins’ pass and returned it 42 yards to Villanova’s 2-yard line. Three plays later, Jordan McDonald scored from 1 yard out.

Tre’mon Morris-Brash and Matthew Alexander added a pair of sacks, which gives UCF eight for the season.

The Knights held Villanova to 1 of 12 (8%) on third downs which is the lowest conversion rate since Missouri went 1 of 11 (9%) in 2012.

Banged up entering Big 12

Several starters missed Saturday’s game with undisclosed injuries, according to Malzahn.

Matthew Alexander started at defensive tackle for redshirt senior Ricky Barber and Jireh Wilson started for an injured DeJordan Mask at safety.

Defensive end Josh Celiscar moved to tackle at one point to help out.

“I’m showing that I can play inside and outside,” said Celiscar. “It’s good for me. When Ricky comes back, we’re going to be ready.”

Adrian Medley stepped in at left guard for injured Bula Schmidt.

“Our left guard got banged up and wasn’t 100%,” said Malzahn. “Adrian Medley’s been a guy that’s been coming on and really pushing.”

Malzahn also replaced Drake Metcalf at center with redshirt freshman Caden Kitler midway through the first half after a false-start penalty.

“We had two false starts and rolled [the football] back there,” said Malzahn. “We had a couple of those things last week [against Boise State], so we have got to get that corrected. It doesn’t matter who is at center, we’re not going to move early. We’re not going to snap it early. We’ve got to get that corrected. “

Email Matt Murschel at or follow him on Twitter at @osmattmurschel.