Monday Notebook: Holy Holler, Mario's Mess, The $10M QB And App(itizer)s


Photo: Getty Images

Ohio State, Oregon, Clemson, North Carolina, LSU and many others did what UCF did not do. They lost. Despite blowing a 28-0 lead and needing a late touchdown, the Knights won their rivalry game, beating South Florida 46-39, and advanced to their conference championship game.

UCF was on its way to blowing out the Bulls in what appears to be the final matchup between the two for the foreseeable future. But a late second quarter touchdown gave South Florida some life and limping John Rhys Plumlee sent him to the sideline with an apparent hamstring injury. Plumlee may have run for 300 yards if he didn't get hurt. He had 133 yards rushing and two scores and passed for another and was 9-for-9 before leaving the game.

Down 31-7, the Bulls went four plays and scored and then UCF fumbled on their second play and South Florida scored in four plays again. Another fumble by UCF and the Bulls scored three plays later and pulled within 31-29. 

The Knights seemed to slow the wave of momentum with a 13-play 75 yard drive capped with a Mikey Keene touchdown pass to Kobe Hudson and it was 38-29. But a South Florida field goal cut it to 38-32 and UCF then went three and out and a punt saw the Bulls return the kick to the UCF 45. Three plays later freshman quarterback Byrum Brown ran 42 yards and suddenly the unthinkable was happening for UCF. They saw a 28-0 and 31-7 lead evaporate and their chance to play for a conference title was fading away.

A third second half fumble gave South Florida the ball at the UCF 49 with 5:13 to play. The Knight defense had been steamrolled in the second and now they needed a stop. South Florida gave the ball on three straight plays to their talented running back, Brian Battie. Battie had 142 yards and a touchdown before that drive began. UCF defensive end, Tre'mon Morris-Brash, made all three tackles and UCF forced a punt.

With 2:49 left, the Knights were at their own 18 and a season on the line. Lose and it goes down as likely the worst loss in program history because of the stakes. But this past Saturday in college football became about survival. And UCF was now trying to survive.

On second and 10, Keene hit Isaiah Bowser for 12 and then receiver Javon Baker dove to pull in a 41-yard pass to get to the Bulls 30-yard line. Freshman kicker, Colton Boomer, had missed a kick all season(the 60+ yarder at Memphis doesn't count because the ball wasn't supposed to be snapped). But Gus Malzahn didn't want it to fall on the shoulders of the rookie. On second and 6 at the South Florida 25, Keene ran for nine down to the 16. Two plays later UCF faced third and 8 from the 14 yard line and the clock was running. 

Would Malzahn run the ball then call timeout and let Boomer win it? Nope. He called for a pass play and sent tight end Alec Holler out to the goal line where Mikey Keene tossed a pass that appeared to be high and out of reach of Holler. It wasn't. Holler extended his body and right arm and somehow grabbed the ball and had the ability of getting a foot or toe down and in bounds for a touchdown.

The play was reviewed and while UCF certainly could have attempted and made a field goal on fourth down, it ended up being one of the best catches in UCF history if the Knights move on to the Cotton Bowl with a win at Tulane this week.

The "Holler Hop" came earlier in the season at Memphis, where a Holler catch saw him leap a defender and then dive and roll for a first down to allow UCF to run the clock and get a key win on the road. But this was simply "Holly Holler." The slow motion video and the still photos magnify how incredible the effort was and the ability of getting a foot down to make the score happen.

Despite South Florida's ability to still get a final pass into the end zone before the game ended, UCF won and advanced. They return to New Orleans to face a Tulane team they beat two weeks ago. The Green Wave captured the AAC regular season title winning at Cincinnati, which turned out to be Luke Fickell's final game as the Bearcats coach. 

Saturday wasn't about style points and it proved rivalry games are just different. But the Knights survived and a trip the Cotton Bowl is on the line this week and despite the loss to Navy and blowing a 28-0 lead in Tampa, they are 60 minutes away from a fourth major bowl game since 2013...

There is a reason a new coach is hired. It's usually to replace a coach who was not successful. When Mario Cristobal was hired there was plenty of hype and lots of money given to him and his staff. Tyler Van Dyke ended the 2021 season as one of the better quarterbacks in the nation so he added to the preseason noise that had the Canes in the national polls in August. Then came losses at Texas A&M and the home loss to Middle Tennessee State. Suddenly the attitude changed in Coral Gables. 

Once the national buzz became silent the noise shifted to complaints about the roster Cristobal inherited. Then the social media chatter was about lengthy practices, assistant coaches complaining to players and even players and their parents openly criticizing the program. Welcome to a coaching change. When a new staff comes in they always know better, they always recruit better, they always run players off. They always believe they are the ones who will get things fixed. 

But along the way that coaching attitude wears on the players who make up the program. Miami's roster was not void of talent. There are many four and a few five star recruits who either rarely play or don't see the field. Why? Who missed so much on talent evaluation or is it about player development or is it "I didn't recruit you and I don't think you are good enough"?

Cristobal began to talk more about getting more players and building a culture that fits his way of running a program. Once the current saw the coaching staff tune them out, why would they want to play for them? And that's what happens and why Miami finished at 5-7 and missing a bowl game. It doesn't mean Cristobal is wrong about making major changes at a program that has struggled to get back to national relevance. But Cristobal's staff is not free of criticism here either. Miami's offense appeared to not fit the personnel the Canes have. Injuries also hindered development on offense. But no one saw 5-7 and a season ending with more questions about the rebuild.

Florida finished 6-6 but Billy Napier appears to be in a better place with his program with just one more win. Both programs are positioned for big recruiting classes and both are likely to run off several players and be portal heavy next week.

But Cristobal's build seems to be deeper and lacks momentum. Florida heades into an off-season with a feeling of the foundation being laid and better days ahead. Miami appears to be a mess and the message of "we will win championships" sounds more like a campaign promise. Cristobal deserves a few seasons to build a program and his contract guarantees him time but these days in college football the last thing coaches and especially fans want to give is time to get better...

Nuggets: FSU's win over the Gators in a thriller in Tallahassee is another moment in what's been a great season for Mike Norvell. At 9-3,the Seminoles are in position for double digit wins and Mike Norvell is in position for a raise and extension. And in some ways, Norvell has shifted the plans of Deion Sanders. As coaching jobs opened and rumors swirled, Sanders name has been connected to Colorado and South Florida. Deep down one has to wonder if Sanders was waiting to see if Mike Norvell struggled this season and he could come in and be the hero at his alma mater. Could you blame Deion for thinking that? But Norvell answered critics and his positioned to have FSU back in the national discussion and likely getting more money for his work...His 9-for-27 performance against FSU makes you wonder what Anthony Richardson is thinking about his future. He may have taken his final snap. If Richardson and his people think he will be a first round pick then he likely has taken his final snap as a Gator. There are moments where he looks the part of a star and makes you want to see more. Then there are those odd plays where he looks like the guy who needs another season. It may be an interesting week to see if Richardson stays or goes...One week from today will be a day no one has ever seen in college football. When the transfer portal opens on December 5th player movement will be like no one has ever seen. Not dozens, hundreds of players will be on the move. For the last few weeks players-many playing for your favorite team- and coaches have been working to get players to transfer. There has been talk about money wanted and money willing to be paid. None of it is legal, but no one can police it. The NCAA is not stopping anyone from transferring, even if you have already bounced from one program to another. But transferring is not just about seeking more playing time it's about money and there will be many players having great seasons at one school that will be offered a lot of money to play elsewhere. That brings me to one guy with maybe the biggest leverage of anyone in college football. How much is a returning Heisman Trophy winner worth? $5M? $10M? USC quarterback Caleb Williams is the frontrunner to win the Heisman. He has stormed past other favorites and his Trojans, in their first year under Lincoln Riley, are poised to make the college football playoffs if they can beat Utah in the Pac 12 title game. Williams is a sophomore who followed Riley from Oklahoma and many believe USC made it financially beneficial for Williams to come to Hollywood with a number of NIL deals- or basically finding money for him- all legal...sort of, everyone does it. But Williams doesn't have a contract to stay at USC. He can do whatever he wants. Why would he leave USC? I am not saying he will or should but he can certainly "hold out" for an unprecedented amount of money. He's not eligible for the NFL Draft until 2024, so what if he told USC he wanted $5M or $10M to stay? Could they say no? What would he be worth on the "open market"? How much would other programs pay for him? I don't know what the market would be but then again, the market never offered a Heisman winner...

Final note: TikTok is the most downloaded app in 2022. Over two billion people have downloaded Tik Tok. Meanwhile, the dumpling or potsticker is the most popular appetizer in the world. 

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content