As Auburn’s coach, Malzahn witnessed the Knights’ 34-27 upset win over his then-No. 7 Tigers in the 2018 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Flash forward six seasons later and the 58-year-old coach was on the UCF sidelines as the Knights pulled off a monumental win over No. 15 Oklahoma State 45-3 on Saturday in their annual Space Game.
“You’ve got to bring your lunch every week in this conference and we’re learning that,” Malzahn said. “We got a big quality win on the road last week. This is one of our best games since I’ve been here. Everything is coming together.”
The win moved UCF (5-5, 2-5 Big 12) closer to bowl eligibility (6 wins), earning Malzahn his 100th career win.
The victory was the first regular-season win over a top-15 team since beating then-No. 8 Louisville 38-35 on Oct. 18, 2013. It was also the first regular-season win over a top-15 team at home since knocking off No. 13 Houston 37-32 on Nov. 14, 2009.
UCF jumped out to a commanding 24-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Knights scored on their first four possessions, with running back RJ Harvey starting things off with a 1-yard run out of the Wildcat formation. Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee found receiver Kobe Hudson streaking across the back of the end zone for the second score. Kicker Colton Boomer added a 30-yard field goal.
Plumee found Hudson again on an underthrown ball that the senior caught and raced 75 yards for a touchdown. It was Hudson’s sixth touchdown of the season and the longest reception of his career.
“That’s the team that we’ve been wanting to show all year,” said Plumlee. “That’s who we are as a team and we got to put it on display tonight and I’m glad we did.”
Rain showers midway through the second quarter sent fans scrambling for cover.
Oklahoma State (7-3, 5-2 Big 12) entered the game with the top-scoring offense in the Big 12, averaging 35.83 points per game, but the Cowboys were shut out in the first half for the second time this season.
“To hold that group to 3 points, they’ve been running wild,” Malzahn said of his defense. “So to hold them to 3 points really says a lot.”
OSU tailback Ollie Gordon II, who led the nation in rushing (1,225 yards), had 10 yards on 7 carries in the first half. The sophomore finished with 25 yards on 12 carries.
UCF played its best game defensively, forcing three first-half turnovers with a fumble and a pair of interceptions.
Sophomore safety Demari Henderson recovered a fumble in the first quarter and intercepted tipped passes by Oklahoma State quarterback Alan Bowman in the second and third quarters. It was Henderson’s third fumble recovery of the season and his first career interception.
Harvey continued his impressive season, breaking off a 92-yard run for a touchdown that pushed the Knights’ lead to 31-3 midway through the third quarter.
Plumlee’s third touchdown pass of the game came on a 14-yarder to Hudson that pushed the advantage to 38-3 with 4:00 left in the third quarter. Hudson’s third touchdown reception of the game gave him 7 touchdowns on the season.
UCF finished with 592 yards of offense, but the defense stood out, holding Oklahoma State to a season-low 52 rushing yards.
“We challenged them. Everybody from outside-in has been challenging them and they answered the bell,” Plumlee said of the defense. “It’s fun to play when they’re playing like that.”
UCF is back on the road for the final time of the season as the Knights travel to Lubbock, Texas, to take on Texas Tech on Saturday. The Red Raiders (5-5, 4-3 Big 12) upset No. 16 Kansas 16-13 and need a win in their final two games for bowl-eligibility.