UCF junior quarterback Blake Bortles looked every bit a high-level NFL prospect in the first quarter-and-a-half Saturday against South Carolina. He also showed NFL skills in a furious fourth-quarter rally. But in the middle, Bortles struggled a bit and South Carolina took control in that span on its way to a 28-25 win.
Bortles (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) finished 25 of 36 (69.4 percent) for 358 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw two picks -- one late in the first half, the other midway through the fourth quarter -- and both ended potential scoring drives. The first pick came on a 1st-and-20 play from South Carolina's 35-yard line with 1:17 left in the first half. The second one hurt even more, coming on a 2nd-and-10 from the Gamecocks' 27 with 6:48 left and UCF trailing by 10.
Bortles threw both his TD passes in the fourth quarter, but they came after South Carolina built a 28-10 lead.
On the first possession of the game, Bortles led UCF on a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. He was 5 of 6 for 51 yards and also ran for 19 yards on the drive. Bortles showed poise and patience, hitting four different receivers on the drive. In the second quarter, he guided the Knights on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ended in a field goal and gave the team a 10-0 lead. He was 6 of 8 for 48 yards on that possession. But UCF didn't do much offensively after that until the fourth quarter.
Bortles is an effective runner, but the Gamecocks seemed to make a concerted effort to keep him in the pocket Saturday. He also possesses a strong arm and some creativity in the pocket. He did get a bit greedy at times, though, and that hurt him, especially on his first interception.
Bortles received solid help in the first half from junior tailback Storm Johnson (6-0, 215), who is developing into a pro prospect. Johnson lacks elite speed, but he is a physical runner who does have a burst and can usually turn the corner. He began his career at Miami (Fla.), but was stuck behind Lamar Miller, so he transferred. Johnson ran for 64 yards and a TD on 16 carries Saturday.
Senior DT E.J. Dunston (6-2, 302), who is a potential third-day pick, also had a good day. Dunston has some pass-rush skills but generally is at his best against the run. He had five tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup, flashing more quickness than you'd expect from a squatty 300-pounder.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.