ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — No. 17 Central Florida moved closer to the American Athletic Conference title with a dominating performance against struggling Rutgers.
Blake Bortles passed for one touchdown and ran another Thursday night, helping the Knights win 41-17 to remain unbeaten in league play. UCF (9-1, 6-0) won for the sixth straight time following a three-point loss to South Carolina, retaining sole possession of first place in the AAC — one game ahead of Louisville and Cincinnati.
"I thought Blake was pretty much on the whole game," UCF coach George O'Leary said. "They put a lot of pressure on him, but he was exceptional as far as taking plays that weren't there and making something good out of them."
Bortles threw a 4-yard TD pass to Breshad Perriman in the opening quarter and UCF scored on its first four offensive possessions to build a 28-7 lead. Rutgers (5-5, 2-4) trimmed its deficit to 14 before the half when Andre Patton recovered a blocked punt in the end zone. However, that was as close as the Scarlet Knights got.
"There's no surprise why they're having the season they're having," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "Their quarterback is an exceptional player, excellent decision-maker, and very accurate passer. We had opportunities to get him on the ground in the first half, and we couldn't do it."
Flood's team has lost four of five following a 4-1 start. The Scarlet Knights have been outscored 166-58 in the losses, all against conference opponents. For the second straight week, they fell behind early and were forced to abandon the running game. Paul James was limited to 20 yards rushing on 12 attempts.
Bortles, meanwhile, completed 21 of 30 passes for 335 yards and no interceptions. The redshirt junior scored on a 7-yard run in the second quarter, finishing one of three TD drives he led covering 79 or more yards.
J.J. Worton, whose one-handed, highlight-reel catch in the back of the end zone helped UCF rally for a victory over last-place Temple five days earlier, had his second straight 100-yard receiving game with five catches for 117 yards. Storm Johnson rushed for 75 yards and scored on runs of 1 and 12 yards.
UCF has won five games by seven or fewer points this season, but this one was never in doubt. The Knights moved 69 yards in eight plays following the opening kickoff to take an early lead on Bortles' TD pass to Perriman and marched right down the field again to go up 14-0 on Johnson's first TD after Clayton Geathers intercepted Gary Nova when Rutgers' quarterback threw into double coverage. Johnson's 11th rushing touchdown of the season completed a 14-play, 86-yard drive that made it 21-0 midway through the second quarter.
Despite amassing a season-best 657 yards of total offense against Temple, Bortles had to lead his team to 10 points in the final 66 seconds to beat the Owls 39-36 to remain atop the conference standings last Saturday. Two weeks ago, the Knights held off Houston after leading 6-0 at the half.
"I think this team needed this kind of game," O'Leary said. "We got a chance to play a lot of kids," O'Leary said. "I told the kids luck runs out, talent usually wins." Bortles agreed. "Nobody would script a game the way the last couple have gone. I'd rather win this way," Bortles said. "I like the script more the way it went tonight. That's why we work so hard all week, so we can come out and execute the way we did."
Rutgers was unable to move the ball with any consistency. Nova was 11 of 34 passing for 107 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. The Scarlet Knights' biggest gainer was Michael Burton's 38-yard run on a fake punt play that accounted for more than half the 71 yards Rutgers marched to score on Paul James' 1-yard run on fourth down.
Anthony Cioffi blocked the punt that Patton recovered for a TD, cutting UCF's lead to 28-14 just before halftime. "There was a lot of positive energy in the locker room," Flood said. "We had a lot of momentum."
But the Scarlet Knights couldn't sustain it and didn't score again until Kyle Federico kicked a 35-yard field goal in the final minute. Bortles finished the rout by leading drives that produced two second-half field goals and leading another long drive that William Stanback capped with a 1-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter.