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UCF football drops 5th straight Big 12 game in loss to West Virginia | 3 takeaways

ORLANDO — West Virginia crashed UCF's debut Big 12 homecoming Saturday and extended the Knights' losing streak to five consecutive games.

Garrett Greene rushed for three touchdowns, and the visiting Mountaineers (5-3, 3-2) turned four UCF turnovers into 21 points on their way to a 41-28 victory at FBC Mortgage Stadium, the Knights' first double-digit defeat at home since Nov. 19, 2016.

"The bottom line is we're not going to beat anybody, for the most part, turning the ball over four times," UCF coach Gus Malzahn said. "We've got to get better. We've got to improve and find a way to get our first victory in the league."

John Rhys Plumlee threw three interceptions and lost a fumble, and UCF's defense failed to slow down the Mountaineers on the ground. West Virginia followed its recipe for success — a strong running game, clock control and avoiding penalties — and punished the Knights for their perpetual sloppiness.

RJ Harvey recorded his third straight 100-yard rushing game for the Knights, hitting the century mark on the dot with his 14 carries.

UCF (3-5, 0-5) won its previous six games on homecoming and held a 28-12 all-time record prior to Saturday. The Knights had not played a game inside the Bounce House since blowing a 28-point lead to Baylor on Sept. 30.

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UCF wide receiver Kobe Hudson catches a touchdown pass in front of West Virginia safety Anthony Wilson during the first quarter at FBC Mortgage Stadium in Orlando, Florida on Oct. 28, 2023.
UCF wide receiver Kobe Hudson catches a touchdown pass in front of West Virginia safety Anthony Wilson during the first quarter at FBC Mortgage Stadium in Orlando, Florida on Oct. 28, 2023.

UCF squandered several opportunities to take the lead

UCF matched each of West Virginia's first three touchdown drives with one of its own. However, the Knights never led — falling behind in just over four minutes when Greene surged ahead for a 6-yard run.

Plumlee, who hit on each of his first five throws, countered with a 34-yard dime to Kobe Hudson. But, turnovers plagued the Knights virtually every time they threatened to take the lead.

Beanie Bishop snagged the Mountaineers' first pick of the day on a bizarre deflection as Javon Baker dropped the ball and had it kick up off his leg into the arms of the defender. True freshman Jaheim White extended West Virginia's advantage to 17-7 with a 4-yard score off the left edge.

UCF answered again when Plumlee snuck in from 8 yards out with 5:50 left until halftime, and UCF's defense made a play when Demari Henderson secured a bouncing fumble on a botched lateral. However, Plumlee tossed picks on both sides of halftime — a floater immediately after the fumble recovery and another when Baker slipped on the outskirts of the red zone to kill a promising drive out of the locker room.

"I know I keep sounding like a broken record, but we moved the football. You turn the ball over, and we kind of self-destructed in that area," Malzahn said.

Xavier Townsend absent; Trent Whittemore sees extra reps

Starting slot receiver Xavier Townsend suited up for pre-game warmups but was held out due to an unspecified injury. Townsend, a sophomore from Tampa, was tackled behind the line of scrimmage on UCF's potential game-tying two-point conversion attempt at Oklahoma last week.

Malzahn said he hopes that Townsend, who rehabbed during the week, will be able to return for the Cincinnati game.

Jarrad Baker started in Townsend's absence, and Florida transfer Trent Whittemore saw extended playing time. Whittemore made his first three receptions of the season and finished with 36 yards.

Hudson, held in check each of the last three weeks, caught three balls for 66 yards and two touchdowns. Baker pulled down a goal-line fade from Plumlee for a 7-yard score that cut UCF's deficit to 24-21 at the 5:25 mark of the third.

Fourth-quarter woes plagued UCF again as West Virginia opened the final period with 17 unanswered points. Opponents have now outscored the Knights 121-71 in the fourth through eight games.

Where will the wins come from the rest of the season?

Saturday's defeat guaranteed a losing record for UCF in its first Big 12 season. And it's fair to start wondering when — or if — the Knights will next crack the win column.

West Virginia has exceeded expectations this fall but was picked to finish last of the league's 14 teams back in July. The Mountaineers entered the day tied for sixth place with a 2-2 mark.

UCF will travel to fellow Big 12 bottomfeeder Cincinnati next week. The Bearcats are also still hunting an elusive first conference win, entering Saturday night.

From there, the Knights host Oklahoma State, visit Texas Tech and close the campaign with Houston — shut out for the first time since 2000 by Kansas State in another noon kickoff. UCF needs three wins in order to achieve bowl eligibility for an eighth straight year.

Co-captains Lokahi Pauole and Jason Johnson dismissed the notion of the team allowing the streak to negatively affect the mood of the group and create dissention.

"We tell everybody to stay together and don't drink the poison," Johnson said. "Just keep fighting and do the best you can."

Pauole added: "This is a test of character. We're about to figure out who UCF is, really. I know the team we've got in the locker room, and I know the boys I play with. I know that we're fighters, that we're strong and that we'll stand the test of time. This university's not going anywhere."

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: UCF football: 3 takeaways from loss to West Virginia