ORLANDO, Fla. -- — It did not take long for UCF to find its groove after losing starting quarterback John Rhys Plumlee to an injury late in last week's win over Boise State.
Timmy McClain and the Knights got to work early and dominated Villanova 48-14 on Saturday night to close their non-conference schedule as they look ahead to their first conference game as members of the Big 12 next week at Kansas State.
The Knights already had a 24-0 lead when McClain found Javon Baker in the corner of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown for his first touchdown pass of the year.
McClain tallied 321 pass yards and two touchdowns for the Knights, adding an additional 44 rush yards. He stepped in for Plumlee, who is expected to miss the next several weeks with a leg injury.
“After that first series, I really got back to doing what I do best," McClain said. "I felt really comfortable throughout the game.”
McClain had plenty of help on both sides of the ball in his first start since 2021, when he played for South Florida.
Sophomore running back Jordan McDonald scored the first two rushing touchdowns of his career in the first quarter and R.J. Harvey led the Knights' group of rushers with 85 yards on 14 attempts with two touchdown scores as well.
The defense put in work too, holding Villanova to 228 yards and keeping the Wildcats off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter. The Wildcats had only 38 total yards and three first downs at halftime, trailing 34-0 at the break. Villanova did not get past the 50-yard line until the third quarter.
“We couldn't establish anything,” Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said. “We had a little too much pressure. We had a couple of things open downfield, we just couldn't get it there. We couldn't get enough on first down to keep the sticks moving.”
The Wildcats scored early in the fourth quarter on a two-yard touchdown run from quarterback Connor Watkins, his third rushing touchdown of the season. Running back TD Ayo-Durojaiye added an 11-yard touchdown run with less than five minutes to play.
UCF tallied 600 yards of total offense to complete the blowout victory.
Now, all eyes for the Knights turn to the team's first trip to play in the Big 12. The Knights will open their conference schedule on the road against Kansas State next week.
The university has been building to this game since declaring itself national champions following an undefeated 2017 season and accepting an invitation to join the Big 12 last summer. The Knights finished their non-conference schedule 3-0 and feel ready to enter the big stage of a Power 5 conference.
“Everybody is excited to take on Kansas State next week," Harvey said. "We know we're going to get their best shot; we're going to give them our best shot,too. I feel like this is probably the best UCF team I've been a part of.”
McClain had not started a game since transferring to UCF before the 2022 season. His last start came in South Florida’s finale against their rival UCF, a 17-13 Knights win where McClain threw for 222 yards and drove the Bulls to the 3-yard line before taking a sack on the game’s final play.
For McClain, returning to UCF was a homecoming, having played for nearby Seminole High School in Sanford, Florida, in high school. He had several family members and friends among the 44,206 in attendance.
UCF entered Saturday's game 15th in the nation giving up 11.0 points per game and 45th in the nation giving up 311.5 yards per game through their first two games of the season. The defense did not let down against Villanova.
UCF set up one score thanks to a Nikai Martinez interception that he returned 42 yards to Villanova’s two-yard line. McDonald scored from a yard out for his second score of the game and a 17-0 lead. The Knights added two sacks for good measure to keep the Wildcats in check.
The Knights have not shut out an opponent since a 62-0 shutout win over Florida A&M to open the 2019 season. They previously gave up six points in their season-opening win over Kent State this season.
Last week, Watkins set a school record for the fewest completions in a 300-yard game, completing 8 of 11 passes for 310 yards and two scores in a 42-19 win over Colgate.
The UCF defense was decidedly tougher to crack.
Watkins went just 9 for 23 for 144 yards (including 1 for 9 for one yard in the first half). That left a high-powered Villanova offense that averaged 40 points per game in its first two games of the season grounded on the road.
UCF will open its first season in the Big 12 with a trip to face Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas, on Saturday.
Villanova will host Rhode Island on Saturday.