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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars running back JJ Di Luigi (10) jumps across the goal line for a touchdown against UCF Knights defensive back Kemal Ishmael (18)in Provo Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. BYU won 24-17.

PROVO — When Central Florida's special teams imploded in the second half due to missed assignments and questionable judgment, a stifling performance from the Knights' pass defense fell by the wayside.

"I think we're playing some kids that ... can't think at the right time (or) make right decisions, and eventually they hurt you on the field," UCF coach George O'Leary said. "We've got to look carefully at what we're doing with some of the players out there."

Central Florida pulled ahead 17-10 with five minutes left in the third quarter when quarterback Jeff Godfrey scampered for a 1-yard touchdown. But on the ensuing kickoff, the Knights' coverage broke down and BYU sophomore Cody Hoffman found daylight on the left sideline on his way to a 93-yard touchdown return that tied the score at 17 apiece.

"It's just sloppy coverage, a bad kick as far as what took place," O'Leary said. "We've got to make a play, and we just didn't."

The next UCF drive ended with 6-foot-5 kicker Nick Cattoi missing a 35-yard field goal attempt wide left. The Knight defense, though, quickly forced BYU to punt — and that's when things really got interesting.

Riley Stephenson boomed a 67-yard punt for the Cougars. UCF punt returner J. J. Worton watched the ball bounce in front of him and then go past him. Worton turned around and, facing his own end zone, tried to corral the ball as it came down at the 12-yard line. He muffed the punt, and BYU recovered at the 8-yard line — making it two weeks in a row that the Knights set up an opponent's game-winning touchdown by fumbling a punt return.

"We can't keep shooting ourselves in the foot on punt returns," O'Leary said. "It's ridiculous. That's 14 points in two weeks we've given up. It's the difference in the game, seven points. It's really just guys trying to make plays instead of doing what they're coached to do."

While the UCF special teams were literally fumbling away the game, the Knights' pass defense had the Cougar air attack on lock down all night. Led by a pair of junior defensive backs who earned first-team all-conference honors last year as underclassmen — safety Kemal Ishmael and cornerback Josh Robinson — UCF limited BYU quarterback Jake Heaps to a 16-for-34 passing night, including a paltry average of 3.91 yards per pass attempt to go with an interception and no touchdowns.

Ishmael finished with 10 tackles, and Robinson intercepted Heaps late in the first quarter.

Email: jaskar@desnews.com