PHILADELPHIA — There were so many reasons for UCF coach Scott Frost to worry about his team’s focus this week.
With a huge game looming, playing an improving Temple team in a stadium where the empty seats outnumbered the filled ones by about a 3-1 ratio on a chilly, gray day had all the makings of a tricky spot for the Knights.
Then Frost saw his wide receivers and defensive backs warming up at Lincoln Financial Field with their shirts off in the 40-degree temperatures.
“I knew right then our team’s mindset was in the right place,” Frost said.
McKenzie Milton threw four touchdown passes and ran for a score as No. 14 Central Florida comfortably took care of business against Temple, winning 45-19 Saturday to stay unbeaten heading into a division title showdown with rival USF.
The Knights (10-0, 7-0 American Athletic conference, CFP No. 15) turned three Temple turnovers inside the Owls’ 25 into 17 first-half points, taking a 31-10 lead when Gabriel Davis stretched across the goal line for a 5-yard touchdown reception with 2:36 left in the second quarter.
Tre’Quan Smith, who had a remarkable one-handed catch, tippy-toeing the sideline to set up a touchdown in the first half, said the coaches were stressing all week that they had to play without long sleeves. So the receivers took it a step further.
“All right we got something for them if we come out in no shirts. Show them we’re ready to play,” Smith said. “We show them we can play in the cold, too, even though we Florida boys.”
The AAC East Division will be decided in Orlando, Florida, on Black Friday, when No. 23 South Florida (9-1, 6-1) visits UCF. Temple (5-6, 3-4) could have been easy to overlook for the Knights. The game had no bearing on whether they play for a conference title and a loss probably wouldn’t have damaged their chances to receive a bid to a New Year’s Six bowl.
With speculation swirling about where second-year coach Frost might be coaching next and so much chatter about whether UCF is getting enough love in the rankings, the Knights stayed on task.
“I was a little worried about this game, being the game before the game,” Frost said. “Being in the cold, being our ninth straight week playing a football game. A lot of factors pointed toward this one potentially being a tough one and our guys responded.”
Shaquem Griffin, the 2016 AAC defensive player of the year whose left hand was amputated when he was 4, was all over the field for the UCF defense. He forced a fumble in the first half that set up a score and made his second career interception in the second half, running step-for-step down field with a receiver and cradling the ball into his chest.
“When you got big games and you got games coming up, it’s very hard to focus on just one, but I think that we’ve been doing a really good job of just focusing on one game at a time. And you kind of see where it led us,” Griffin said.
Frank Nutile, who helped revive Temple’s offense when he took over at quarterback four games ago, was picked off four times. Nutile said he apologized to his teammates for a poor game.
“At the end of the day our goal is to send the seniors off the right way. Finish off 6-6. Get bowl eligible and stuff like that. It’s still right,” Nutile said.
UCF: The Knights have so many ways to attack. Six different players scored touchdowns, including freshman Otis Anderson, who is listed on the depth chart as a wide receiver but also is one of the team’s leading rushers. He had 62 yards on five carries against Temple and caught a touchdown pass.
Temple: The Owls tried to slow the pace against the Knights, but turnovers killed that plan. Temple is not built to get into a back-and-forth game with the highest scoring team in the country.
There were Nebraska fans in the stand, sitting right next to the UCF tunnel that led to the field, with signs that read, “Scott Come Back Home.” Not to be outdone, another group of fans Tennessee fans had signs that read, “We Found Our Coach” and “There’s Frost In Our Forecast.”
UCF: The War on Interstate 4 has never been bigger. “Can’t wait,” UCF linebacker Pat Jasinski said. “Can’t wait.”
Temple: The Owls try again to reach bowl eligibility, this time at Tulsa.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP