Updated at: 11/21/2013 11:35 PM
By FRED GOODALL
(AP) ORLANDO, Fla. - Struggling Rutgers didn’t make plays when it had a chance and again was left looking for answers.
The offense sputtered and a porous defense couldn’t slow No. 17 Central Florida in a 41-17 loss Thursday night that extended a slide that’s seen the Scarlet Knights (5-5, 2-4) lose four of five games following a 4-1 start.
"There’s no surprise why they’re having the season they’re having," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "Their quarterback is an exceptional player, excellent decision-maker, and very accurate passer. We had opportunities to get him on the ground in the first half, and we couldn’t do it."
Blake Bortles passed for one touchdown and ran another, helping UCF remain unbeaten in the American Athletic Conference.
UCF (9-1, 6-0) won for the sixth straight time following a three-point loss to South Carolina, retaining sole possession of first place in the AAC _ one game ahead of Louisville and Cincinnati.
"I thought Blake was pretty much on the whole game," UCF coach George O’Leary said. "They put a lot of pressure on him, but he was exceptional as far as taking plays that weren’t there and making something good out of them."
Bortles threw a 4-yard TD pass to Breshad Perriman in the opening quarter and UCF scored on its first four offensive possessions to build a 28-7 lead.
Rutgers (5-5, 2-4) trimmed its deficit to 14 before the half when Andre Patton recovered a blocked punt in the end zone. However, that was as close as the Scarlet Knights got the rest of the way.
Flood’s team has been outscored 166-58 over its last four losses, all against conference opponents.
"In the first half, we had players in position to make plays on defense, but we couldn’t get certain players on the ground. That sustained drives," Flood said.
"So we have to do two things: make sure we are putting them in the right position with the right calls, and make sure we have the right people on the field to make those plays," Flood added. "If we are, then we are doing what we need to do. If not, then we need to change. And, it’s the same thing for offense."
For the second straight week, the Scarlet Knights fell behind early and were forced to abandon the running game. Paul James was limited to 20 yards rushing on 12 attempts.
"It was a disappointing game for us," Flood said.
Bortles, meanwhile, completed 21 of 30 passes for 335 yards and no interceptions. The redshirt junior scored on a 7-yard run in the second quarter, finishing one of three TD drives he led covering 79 or more yards.
J.J. Worton, whose one-handed, highlight-reel catch in the back of the end zone helped UCF rally for a victory over last-place Temple five days earlier, had his second straight 100-yard receiving game with five catches for 117 yards. Storm Johnson rushed for 75 yards and scored on runs of 1 and 12 yards.
UCF has won five games by seven or fewer points this season, but this one was never in doubt.
The Knights moved 69 yards in eight plays following the opening kickoff to take an early lead on Bortles’ TD pass to Perriman and marched right down the field again to go up 14-0 on Johnson’s first TD after Clayton Geathers intercepted Gary Nova when he threw into double coverage. Johnson’s 11th rushing touchdown of the season completed a 14-play, 86-yard drive that made it 21-0 midway through the second quarter.
Rutgers was unable to move the ball with any consistency. Nova was 11 of 34 passing for 107 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. The Scarlet Knights’ biggest gainer was Michael Burton’s 38-yard run on a fake punt play that accounted for more than half the 71 yards Rutgers marched to score on Paul James’ 1-yard run on fourth down.
Anthony Cioffi blocked the punt that Patton recovered for a TD, cutting UCF’s lead to 28-14 just before halftime.
"There was a lot of positive energy in the locker room," Flood said. "We had a lot of momentum."
But the Scarlet Knights couldn’t sustain it and didn’t score again until Kyle Federico kicked a 35-yard field goal in the final minute.
The Rutgers coach said he’s not concerned about the prospect of players becoming discouraged by a lack of success.
"I watch how the team plays until the end of the game," Flood said. "Even through that last kickoff (in the closing seconds), you could see guys playing with tremendous effort. I don’t see a team that is discouraged."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)