Ravens

UCF erases early hole, rallies to beat ECU 40-20

UCF erases early hole, rallies to beat ECU 40-20

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Central Florida entered its Conference USA opener needing a win to slow division mate East Carolina, which was already 2-0 in league play and set to face a favorable schedule against several weaker teams the rest of the season.

Then the Knights fell behind by two touchdowns quickly, before Quincy McDuffie sparked them with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the way to a 40-20 victory Thursday night.

McDuffie also scored on a 64-yard touchdown catch and Knights quarterback Blake Bortles threw for a touchdown and ran for another. Shawn Moffitt kicked four field goals.

``There wasn't anything we ran that got stopped,'' Bortles said. ``Our goal is to put points on the board every possession. We definitely want touchdowns as the end results, but even though some of those ended up with field goals, we still got points on the board.''

UCF (3-2, 1-0 Conference USA) scored on eight consecutive possessions to seize control of the game, while its defense tightened and allowed only a field goal after halftime.

The Pirates (3-3, 2-1) led 14-0 early, but lost an opportunity to take control of C-USA's East Division. Quarterback Shane Carden had a rushing score and 76-yard touchdown pass, but threw an interception and was sacked twice.

With senior tailback Reggie Bullock out after sustaining a concussion last week against UTEP, Vintavious Cooper - who had 151 yards in the win over the Miners - had to shoulder the majority rushing duties with only a little relief from Michael Dobson. Cooper finished with 58 yards rushing Thursday, but failed to get into the end zone.

The 40 points allowed by the Pirates were second only to the 48 it allowed in their 48-10 loss to South Carolina Sept. 8.

``"We wanted to start fast and we did have the momentum early, but then some special teams' mishaps and we lost momentum,'' ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said. ``Something tough like that happens, you got to play the next play and get the momentum back. We had some opportunities to gain it back, but just didn't do it.''

It was easily UCF's strongest collective effort of the season on offense. It also got a boost from the return of running back Latavius Murray, who played in his first game since suffering a shoulder injury in the season opener Aug. 30.

Meanwhile, ECU came apart on both sides of the ball in the second half, never recovering from an early momentum swing. The loss kept the Pirates from moving to 3-0 for just the third time since 2001.

ECU, which had outscored its previous two league opponents 52-32, was outscored by UCF 20-3 after halftime. The fast-moving, no huddle offense that was successful early, whittled largely because of its lackluster 4 for 14 performance on third down.

McNeill said not stopping UCF was more of a problem.

``Our defense has been getting people off the field all year, but you got to give some credit to UCF. They did a very good job,'' McNeill said.

Early on it looked as if the Pirates were headed for a romp, methodically marching 75 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive of the night to take a 7-0 lead.

Carden was efficient in the air throughout, going 6 for 7 for 40 yards passing on the drive. ECU also converted a fourth-and-1 near midfield to keep the series alive.

It was the first time this season that the Pirates have scored first in a game. Entering Thursday, UCF's defense had also only allowed seven points all season in the first quarter.

UCF went three and out on its first touch of the night, and ECU's offense needed just one more play to put the Knights in a 14-0 hole, this time via Carden's 76-yard strike down the sideline to Justin Hardy.

The fast-paced scoring continued on the ensuing kickoff, though, when UCF's McDuffie bounced outside and got free for a 99-yard kickoff return to get the Knights back in the game.

The back-to-back scores spanned just 25 seconds.

UCF then tied it a series later on a 4-yard touchdown run by Storm Johnson.

The Knights end a four-game home stand next Saturday when they host Southern Mississippi. The Pirates return home to host Memphis.

UCF coach George O'Leary said he was most proud of how his team responded after a tough home loss to Missouri last week.

``I think we have a team that perseverance-wise, is very resilient,'' O'Leary said. ``You go down 14-0 right away; I think we have a group of good seniors that hung in there.''

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter athttp://www.twitter.com/khightower .

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Joe Flacco receives high praise from teammates after first training camp practice

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Joe Flacco receives high praise from teammates after first training camp practice

Ravens football is back and so is Joe Cool.

The team’s first training camp practice took place Thursday afternoon, and Joe Flacco’s teammates – from offensive to defensive players – mentioned how laser focused the 10-year veteran is.

"Joe always has a lot of personality,” running back Alex Collins said via SB Nation’s Baltimore Beatdown.

“He is a good guy. He’s a real funny guy, but definitely coming into this year, he has a lot of fire behind him. And it does a lot motivating us especially early when we first reported back. Just seeing him work hard and just seeing him get better every day. He’s definitely got a lot of fire behind him this year.”

Flacco is entering the final year of his contract with a lot on the line following a disappointing start to the 2017 season. But a huge factor that is different for the 33-year old coming into this preseason opposed to last is his health.

“Most definitely,” Collins said on whether he can tell if Flacco is healthier this year. “He’s a lot faster as well, by the way, guys.”

And when it comes to the “Is Joe Flacco elite” debate, linebacker C.J. Mosley knows the consensus within the Under Armour Performance Center.

“I think every year [Joe Flacco] comes in with his mindset that he wants to be great,” Mosley said.

“Mainly because everybody outside of this building does not think he is elite and inside the building, everybody does think that way. Since Joe has been here, you know he is one of those players that never gets rattled. You never see his emotions too high, too low. He’s been our quarterback that kinda stays in the middle to make sure everything goes smooth. That’s kinda how he has been this offseason too. He’s come in looking strong, body looking good.”

Flacco’s health is up to speed as well as his mentality. Flacco organized private workouts with his wide receivers and tight ends at a local park across from the Ravens’ facility last week. This is the first time he has done so since 2011. When asked if he initiated the session, Michael Crabtree gave all the credit to his new quarterback.

“No, that’s all Flac [Flacco], man,” Crabtree said. “That’s the leader. We’re just the wideouts. [We] do whatever he says. If we’ve got something we bring to the table, then we make it work.”

 

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10 Questions in 10 days: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

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10 Questions in 10 days: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold before the team heads to Richmond. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

No. 7: Do the Redskins have a 1,000-yard WR?

No. 6: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

Right or wrong, fans blamed Shawn Lauvao for much of the Redskins struggles on the offensive line last season. Pro Football Focus backs up the fans, as Lauvao landed a -19.1 grade, among the worst in the NFL at the guard spot. 

It's worth pointing out that Lauvao was playing hurt during much of his nine starts before getting shut down for the season just before Thanksgiving. In fact, injuries have probably been the biggest issue for Lauvao in his four seasons with the Redskins. 

In four seasons in Washington, Lauvao has never played a full 16-game slate. Last year he played just nine games, and in 2015 he only played three games. 

That points to what may be the bigger issue for the Redskins: offensive line depth. Last season was wild with the amount of injuries Washington sustained up front. It seems almost impossible for the team to have that many injuries again.

Still, the Redskins lost Arie Kouandjio for the year in the offseason. Kouandjio played better last year than Lauvao, and having both men in Richmond would have provided real competition. 

And that might be the biggest question: Neither Lauvao or Kouandjio represent a difference maker at left guard, yet the team did little to address the position. 

All offseason, the Washington brass walked a fine line between confidence and arrogance. The organization believes strongly in the players they already have, and outside of signing Paul Richardson and re-signing Zach Brown, the team had a quiet offseason. The Redskins struggled to run the ball the last few years, and still, the team did not look to upgrade at LG. 

It's important to note that the Redskins have two All-Pro caliber offensive linemen in Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff. Morgan Moses is a plus at the right tackle spot too. The team likes Chase Roullier at center too, and they tried to add depth in drafting Geron Christian in the third round and bringing back swing tackle backup Ty Nsekhe as a restricted free agent. 

Left guard will be a question, and it's hard not to think that it will be the weakest position on the O-line. Should that submarine the group? It shouldn't. What if Lauvao gets hurt?  Then things get quite tricky.

For the Redskins, however, the expectation might be that the line needs to perform as a unit, and with talent like Williams and Scherff, that should cover up any weaknesses.

Time, and health, will tell if that plan works. 

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