Just 90 seconds into the game, Central Florida (1-1) showed a glimpse of what would plague its football team all afternoon. Sophomore safety Tyree Kinnel jumped and extended, getting a piece of the Knights’ first punt of the day. The kick traveled just 13 yards, downed at Michigan’s 46, but UCF wouldn’t learn its lesson any time soon.
The Knights created chances and sometimes executed, including on their two touchdown runs, but they botched most opportunities.
On the way to a 51-14 rout, the fifth-ranked Wolverines capitalized on multiple mishaps and blunders by UCF’s special teams unit. Through three quarters, they tipped two punts and two field goals (one completely blocked) and recovered a muffed kickoff. Another time, the UCF return man, looking rattled, nearly took a knee in the end zone for what would have been a safety.
“You just don’t ever want to concede points on the board, whether it’s an extra point or a field goal,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh following the game. “Our guys are tired, but they commit themselves to one final push to keep points off the board. Our guys did an excellent job. Our special teams is really performing well. I’ve been very pleased to get those blocks, but those had a big return today.”
In the first quarter, fifth-year senior defensive end Chris Wormley blocked Knights kicker Matthew Wright’s 50-yard field goal attempt. The Wolverines took over at their own 43, and just three minutes later, redshirt junior fullback Khalid Hill ran in Michigan’s second touchdown of the game.
A quarter later, Wormley got a hand on another field-goal attempt. After watching film all week in preparation for Wright, Wormley anticipated Michigan’s special teams success.
“Blocking those field goals was something I think we all thought we could do,” Wormley said. “The kicker kicked pretty low. We got good push, put your hands up, big hands, big long arms, and made some plays.”
But Michigan didn’t just take advantage of Wright, who went 0-for-2. In the return game, redshirt sophomore linebacker Jabrill Peppers returned a punt 35 yards to UCF’s 12-yard line in the second quarter, setting up for senior tight end Jake Butt’s second touchdown of the game.
Michigan made some big tackles on the kickoff team. After Hill ran in Michigan’s fifth touchdown of the game, fifth-year senior Kenny Allen kicked off. UCF’s Rashard Causey muffed it, however, and redshirt freshman Jordan Glasgow recovered at the Knights’ 17-yard line. Two minutes later, Allen made a 37-yard field goal, his third of the game.
But Allen wasn’t perfect by any means, dropping the snap on a punt later in the third quarter. He picked it back up, but the Knights tackled him instantly and took possession on Michigan’s 48-yard line.
Still, that mistake did no damage, as UCF turned the ball over on downs on the ensuing series. Despite Allen’s one mishap, the special teams unit consistently created opportunities for the Wolverines, handing over incredible field positions that allowed for quick and successful drives.
“Oh man, I mean, I sit in the special teams meetings too and I knew our punt block was going to be special this week, just the way — I mean, I’m not on it — but studying their film a little bit, I knew we would have success,” Butt said. “Special teams are huge. They’re such big momentum swings and momentum opportunities. We blocked a couple, Jabrill returned a couple, blocked a field goal here and there. (We) executed on all of our special teams. That’s huge.”