After two hours and forty five minutes of delays due to lightning and spanning the course of two days, the UCF Knights and Boise State Broncos were able to have their big season opener on national television. The game was supposed to start at 7pm. Very true to the spirit of the year 2021, that did not go as planned and the game actually kicked off at 9:45pm. As a result, the game ended at 1:30am the next day with the Knights coming back from a 24-7 first half deficit to win 36-31 and open the Gus Malzahn era on the winning side. It’s knee-jerk reaction time.
Not a pretty start
UCF looked really good at first. They gave up only one first down on Boise State’s first drive and then drove the ball downfield on their first offensive drive. After a 23-yard run by Dillon Gabriel, he managed to throw an interception at the goal line that was returned 100 yards for a Broncos touchdown. Gabriel for much of the half seemed to be off. His vision and chemistry wasn’t clicking, his throws were more pushed, and his shoulders were anything but squared. UCF failed to grab any momentum until the final drive of the first half while down 24-7. During that final drive, Gabriel seemed to right the ship. He showed poise, precision, and was decisive in his throws. He kept the momentum going into the second drive, which was highlighted by a ridiculous fingertip catch by Jaylon Robinson, which set up a UCF touchdown to make the game 24-21 Broncos. I’d like to point out this was still Thursday.
Thursday didn’t work so well, so play on Friday
As noted above, UCF looked awful early on. In fact, UCF struggled on Thursday. During the third quarter, the clock struck midnight and the Knightmare began. UCF was flawless in the third quarter, outgaining Boise State 181 to -9 in the third quarter. Outside of a bad interception by Gabriel, which led to the only Broncos touchdown of the second half, the Knights played about as well as possible. UCF got their first lead on Friday and while they gave it up, they regained it and refused to let go. UCF finished with 573 yards of offense versus 302 yards for Boise State. The big difference was in rushing yards, where UCF dominated 255 to 39.
The transfers are as good as advertised
UCF brought in a bunch of transfers after the hiring of Gus Malzahn and they did not disappoint. Big Kat Bryant was everywhere early on, causing disruptions in the passing game and making hits. Bryant had three tackles, including a half for loss and two quarterback hurries. Ricky Barber also did well, making four tackles, including one and a half tackles for loss, a pass breakup, and a quarterback hurry. Bryson Armstrong made six tackles. On the offensive side, Isaiah Bowser was a man possessed, carrying the rock 33 times for a career high 172 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Johnson was second in receiving, making five catches for 47 yards and a touchdown. With running back being an area of concern, Bowser was able to carry the mantle on his own.
This applies in so many ways. From Gabriel’s shoulder to offensive lineman Marcus Tatum having trouble blocking on a screen, technique was a problem. Gabriel was able to figure things out and it made a big difference for the Knights’ offense.
On defense, tackling was nothing short of atrocious in the first half. It didn’t matter which position group, they all tackled very high, trying to grab shoulder pads. This led to a number of broken tackles, including a 22-yard run by Andy Van Buren, which set up a Boise State touchdown and a catch in the red zone by Khalil Shakir, which went from being short of a third down conversion to being a 19-yard touchdown. Even on a botched snap by Hank Bachmeier nearly became a missed tackle as Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste nearly missed grabbing his shoulder pads. Like most UCF-related issues, the technique vastly improved in the second half. The improvement was big enough to help make up for….
The defensive backs still need work
After a slow start, Hank Bachmeier got really hot and he carved the UCF secondary apart. With the defensive front causing a lot of mayhem, it helped alleviate some of the flaws in the secondary. Something of concern was how soft the coverage was. Bachmeier was able to spot the soft coverage on multiple occasions, converting second and long or third and long into first downs. This needs work and it needs it soon. In our positional analysis, there was concern regarding the defensive backs and that concern is warranted. It wasn’t until the very end of the game when Bachmeier tried to be a hero and threw an ill-fated interception that sealed the deal. Before that, the defensive backs were relatively ineffective.
UCF: Dillon Gabriel: 25/37 for 318 yards, 4 TD, 2 Int
BSU: Hank Bachmeier: 25/39 for 263 yards, 2 TD, 1 Int
UCF: Isaiah Bowser: 33 carries for 172 yards, 1 TD
BSU: Cyrus Habibi-Likio: 12 carries for 23 yards, 0 TD
UCF: Jaylon Robinson: 6 catches for 140 yards, 1 TD
BSU: Khalil Shakir: 5 catches for 91 yards, 2 TD
- Dillon Gabriel has passed for a touchdown in 24 straight games. He is tied with McKenzie Milton for second in school history.
- UCF has had at least one passing and one rushing touchdown for 50 straight games. This streak leads the nation.
- Dillon Gabriel is now responsible for 71 total touchdowns. He is tied with Blake Bortles for fifth in school history.
- Dillon Gabriel now has 12 300-yard passing games, tying McKenzie Milton for third in school history.
- This is Jaylon Robinson’s seventh 100 yard game.
- UCF’s 21 point comeback is tied for the most in school history. It was previously done in 1984 and in 2013.
- UCF has won the coaching debut for their last three head coaches.
- UCF has won their sixth season opener in a row, dating back to 2016.
- Isaiah Bowser set a new personal best with 172 yards. His previous best was 166 yards.
- Andrew Osteen now has 103 career punts, moving him into eighth in school history
- This was the first meeting between UCF and Boise State.
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