ORLANDO, Fla. – UCF opened its first season in the Big 12 in celebratory fashion, routing Kent State 56-6 on Thursday night.
John Rhys Plumlee threw for 281 yards and rushed for another 90 on his way to four total touchdowns to lead the Knights.
Plumlee found Xavier Townsend for a nine-yard score and Alec Holler from 18-yards out just before halftime. Plumlee then found RJ Harvey for his first career touchdown on a 50-yard catch-and-run touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter.
“We know that we’ve done good and bad in this game,” Plumlee said. “We showed a little how explosive we can be and how good we can be on both sides of the ball. A win like this, it propels you. At the end of the day to be great, we know as a team it takes one day at a time.”
The Knights showed plenty of explosive plays with Harvey adding an 84-yard touchdown run as the Knights powered their way to 723 yards of total offense.
Kent State managed only 240 total yards with quarterback Michael Alaimo tallying 145 passing yards.
Offense was a struggle for the Golden Flashes. They have no returning offensive starters from a year ago and only four returning starters total. Off-season transfers gutted the team following the departure of Sean Lewis for Colorado as the Buffaloes offensive coordinator and the hiring of first-time head coach Kenni Burns.
The Golden Flashes crossed midfield on six of their 12 drives in the game but managed only two field goals, missing an additional kick in the second quarter. They had zero plays in the red zone.
“I knew it would be some ups and downs and they just have to keep playing together," Burns said. "One thing I will say about the offense is they continued to fight until the end. They'll get better. We'll be OK.”
UCF recorded three sacks and held Kent State to 95 rushing yards.
Kent State moved the ball some as UCF adjusted to an unfamiliar offense. But after the first quarter, the Knights slowed the Golden Flashes, then wore them down with depth and speed.
RUNNING OF THE QB
One of the bigger points of emphasis for UCF is to keep Plumlee from running the ball to preserve him for later in the season. He was the team's leading rusher last year.
Neither was the hurdle Plumlee successfully pulled off against a Kent State defender on the game's first drive.
Coach Gus Malzahn joked he would tackle Plumlee himself if he attempted something like that again. Plumlee finished the game with 90 rushing yards on eight attempts and a touchdown, trailing Johnny Richardson by 10 for the team lead.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
Kent State is still trying to piece together its offense under Burns. The team has no returning starters and welcomed several transfers and must come together quickly. The up-tempo offense remains a work in progress.
Burns said the team lacks the depth to run the fast-paced style the Golden Flashes want. He estimated the team had only 14 players ready to play at this level and young players will have to step up, including freshman center Andrew Page, who went up against an experienced UCF defensive line.
UCF likes to market itself as Space U with several plays that make it feel like they are a rocket ship taking off. That is not just about the SpaceX rocket that launched just before the end of the game that fans could see in the night sky over the stadium as the clock ticked down.
The Knights had nine plays of 20 or more yards, including the 50-yard catch-and-run from Harvey in the third quarter. Holler said this is an emphasis for the team.
THE TAKEAWAY: UCF expected to get off to a fast start as a member of the Big 12. The Knights did that and more in running up the score on the Golden Flashes with three touchdown drives that lasted less than two minutes.
Still, there are bigger challenges ahead.
Plumlee had a fumble and an interception in the first half, marking the third straight game dating back to last season where Plumlee fumbled the ball and the fifth game of his two-year career at UCF where he lost a fumble and threw a pick. He threw a second pick in the end zone early in the fourth quarter. He had eight total interceptions last year.
UP NEXT: Kent State continues its non-conference schedule with a trip to play the SEC's Arkansas. UCF hits the road next week to face perennial Group of 5 power Boise State.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll