However, this was a Wednesday evening at UCF. The American Athletic Conference opener between the Knights and SMU was initially pushed back from last Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. Due to the lingering effects of Hurricane Ian, the game was rescheduled for Wednesday.

UCF Overcomes Challenges Brought On By Hurricane Ian To Win Conference Opener

However, this was a Wednesday evening at UCF. The American Athletic Conference opener between the Knights and SMU was initially pushed back from last Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. Due to the lingering effects of Hurricane Ian, the game was rescheduled for Wednesday.
UCF Coach Gus Malzahn, Credit: Tom Layberger

ORLANDO, Fla. – While driving through the campus a couple of hours before kickoff there was little sign that a football game was going to be played.

With classes having resumed Tuesday, students and staff occupied parking lots that would typically be packed with tailgaters on a football Saturday.

Memory Mall? The great lawn is typically teeming with students, alumni, parents and assorted hangers on having a good time long before the teams take the field.

However, this was a Wednesday evening at UCF. The American Athletic Conference opener between the Knights and SMU was initially pushed back from last Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. Due to the lingering effects of Hurricane Ian, the game was rescheduled for Wednesday.

A subdued setting was appropriate. Hundreds of students were left homeless after flooding inundated multiple off-campus apartment complexes. Many were left to sleep in their cars, at least those fortunate enough to still have vehicles that were not swamped.

A number of UCF staffers, including in the sports information department, had a few feet of water in their homes after the nearby Little Econlockhatchee (Little Econ River) grew into an untamed beast.

“The mental and emotional toll of the hurricane, that was real,” said coach Gus Malzahn, following his Knights’ 41-19 win over the Mustangs. “I really appreciate Terry, our administration and our president being sensitive to that. Pushing the game back to Wednesday was really in the best interests, I think, of everyone.”

Malzahn was referring to athletic director Terry Mohajir and president Alexander Cartwright. He also tipped his visor to SMU and coach Rhett Lashlee. The coaches share a tight bond that dates to when Lashlee played for Malzahn when the latter was the head coach at Shiloh Christian School in Arkansas in the late 1990s.

The fact both teams had open weeks allowed for flexible scheduling.

“We tried to practice right before (Ian) hit, and it was a challenge because you’re worried about your families, other families, your players,” said Malzahn. “That was my first experience (with a team during a hurricane) and it was a challenge. Even when you get back (to practicing) it felt weird there for a day or two. Then, finally, we start getting into a routine. Credit to our coaches and our players to be able to be focused to play like they did tonight.”

Play they did, and on a gorgeous evening with the temperature 76 degrees with a light breeze at kickoff.

After totaling 145 yards in the first half, the Knights (4-1) broke loose for 204 yards in the third quarter when they turned a 13-10 deficit into a 24-13 lead. That was the beginning of a stretch of 31 unanswered points and a 41-13 lead before SMU scored on the game’s final play.

UCF totaled 484 yards and John Ryhs Plumlee threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns, both to Ryan O’Keefe. Isiah Bowser ran for three scores. Though the defense allowed 476 yards, Travis Williams’ unit came up big when it had to.

It all added up to lifting the curtain on conference play with a win, even if it was in front of an announced 27,495 – the house still bounced at times — instead of the usual 40,000-plus at FBC Mortgage Stadium,

“That’s what it’s about,” said Malzahn getting off to a winning start in the Knights’ final season of play in the American before heading to the Big 12. “I told our guys, 3-1 non-conference, it doesn’t matter what happened before good and bad. It’s conference time and you have to raise your level. Championship teams raise their level. I couldn’t be more proud of them. We are 1-0 and going in the right direction.”

The Knights host Temple next Thursday night.

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