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QB repays coach's confidence
A year after a winless season, Steven Moffett has the Golden Knights in their first bowl game.
By SHARON GINN
Published December 24, 2005
Perhaps 30 minutes after UCF's disappointing 44-27 loss to Tulsa in the Dec.3 Conference USA championship game, a calm, almost upbeat Steven Moffett stood before the media, answering tough questions without a hint of evasion.
The Golden Knights' junior quarterback was quick to take much of the blame for the loss, which happened in front of a national TV audience, the biggest home crowd in school history and certainly the most attention the program had seen since Daunte Culpepper last took a snap for UCF seven years ago.
Moffett is no Culpepper. Culpepper, for one thing, never lived through an 0-11 season while taking heat from every direction. After last year's experience, Moffett figures dealing with a little bad publicity after a painful loss - during what has otherwise been an outstanding season - is no big deal.
"It's like second nature now," Moffett said with a laugh. "Last year, every week it was something different. I probably learned every answer to every question."
The quarterback who lost his first 13 games as a starter has helped lead the Golden Knights (8-4) to a second-place finish in C-USA and the school's first bowl appearance, against Nevada (8-3) in tonight's Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu. Coach George O'Leary, who stuck with Moffett despite the doubts of outsiders, last month praised Moffett's "maturity and fieldsmanship."
"I would say Steven has a good grasp of what is in front of him now from a defensive standpoint," O'Leary said. "He is playing with a lot more vision and knows where to throw it."
The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder from Winter Park was pushed onto the hot seat unexpectedly as a freshman in 2003. He sat out the first eight games under the assumption he would redshirt but was called on to start against Eastern Michigan in November. Moffett fumbled twice in that 19-13 loss and completed just 7 of 18 passes for 46 yards with an interception.
Coach Mike Kruczek was fired a week later. Interim coach Alan Gooch kept Moffett in the lineup for the final two games; the Golden Knights were barely competitive. When George O'Leary took over in 2004, Moffett was tapped as starter, but the woes continued.
Moffett played solid at times during the 0-11 season, including a 25-for-33, 272-yard, two-touchdown performance in a loss to Northern Illinois. But he also lost his job twice to freshman Kyle Israel. Both times Moffett got it back, securing it for good in early November after Israel sustained a season-ending leg injury.
Moffett's return as a starter this season inspired little excitement from fans, but O'Leary noted his improvement during spring drills and boldly predicted in the preseason that Moffett and his teammates had a chance at a bowl game.
After losses against South Carolina and USF to open the season, the Golden Knights proved their coach right by snapping the 17-game losing streak against Marshall and going on to win seven of their next eight.
"My job is to be efficient and keep us in good plays, not put us in bad situations," he said. "If I make good decisions, good things are going to happen.
"I'm a lot more vocal. Last year I sat back. I wasn't exactly sure what was going on. This year I can step up and talk more. Last year I asked (teammates) if they messed up. This year I know right away."
His new confidence has translated into better numbers and more consistent play. He has completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 2,624 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Two of those interceptions came in the C-USA title game, arguably Moffett's weakest outing of the season. He completed 13 of 27 passes against Tulsa and lost two fumbles.
But after so much practice walking off the field as a losing quarterback, Moffett said dealing with that loss wasn't difficult.
"The thing I learned last season is when you lose, you've got to put it out of your mind and get better each week," he said. "Once you learn what you're doing out there on the field, the game's going to be a lot easier."