Here is what I was watching for on Friday night from Nippert Stadium. Here are the results:
1. How will the UCF Knights begin this game?
If I had told you after Friday’s first quarter that the Knights had a 153-45 yardage edge and ran 22 more plays than the Cincinnati Bearcats, you’d rightfully think that UCF was sitting pretty.
But the offense’s sound and fury signified nearly nothing on the scoreboard. Despite overwhelming the Bearcats on both sides of the ball, UCF led just 3-0 after the first 15 minutes.
The problem? Something that was an issue all game long: The Knights didn’t take advantage often when they got into the red zone.
First drive: Right tackle Jake Brown is called for a false start on second and 3 at the 5-yard line, and the offense can’t recover. Dylan Barnas nails a short field goal.
Second drive: A 16-play, 76-yard trek of more than five minutes produces zilch after Gabriel Davis slips coming out of his break, allowing cornerback Cam Jefferies to step in front and intercept Dillon Gabriel’s throw at the 2.
Third drive: Following a good kickoff return by Adrian Killins Jr., UCF drives down to the 5-yard line again, only to have three consecutive plays with zero yards. They settle for another field goal.
“Early in the football game, [we] had multiple opportunities in the first quarter, and to come away with three points, that can and did come back to haunt us tonight,” head coach Josh Heupel said after the loss.
I mentioned the Knights’ red-zone problems in the column linked below. I can almost guarantee that will be part of my next checklist article, prior to UCF’s game against the East Carolina Pirates on Oct. 19.
2. Can the Knights’ defense hang tough versus Cincy’s tri-headed ground game?
The stat sheet shows that Cincy gained 192 rushing yards, but those who watched the game should understand how well the Knights’ defense performed Friday. They kept the team alive, especially while the offense was practically stuck in cement during the third quarter.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder gained a few first downs with his legs, but it’s not like he constantly befuddled the Knights. Tavion Thomas was barely a whisper while lead running back Michael Warren II picked up a rather pedestrian 73 yards on 22 carries — IF you subtract one third-quarter carry.
But, oh, that carry. It’s the type of play that could live long in Bearcat lore. Warren busted up middle on the final play of the third quarter. He shook defensive end Jalen Pinkney off his back and stepped through an ankle tackle from linebacker Eric Mitchell. He faked out safety Richie Grant, and defensive backs made Antwan Collier and Aaron Robinson collide 50 yards downfield. The Bearcats would score one play after Warren’s 60-yard game-changer, leaving the Knights in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
It was a very commendable effort by UCF’s defense, but history won’t remember it because of one stupendous run.
3. Who wins the turnover battle?
Cincinnati, 4-1. It wasn’t just the number of turnovers that hurt the Knights, but also where they occurred and how the Bearcats took advantage of them.
UCF was able to cash its only forced turnover — Tay Gowan‘s second interception of the year — into a touchdown. Now for the bad news:
First turnover: It was that INT mentioned above by Jefferies at the 2. This was the only turnover where Dillon Gabriel really wasn’t at fault, but it obviously took at least three points off the board. Maybe more.
Second turnover: For the second time in the first half, there is a dropped read-option handoff at the contact point between quarterback and running back. Here, it falls apart between Gabriel and Killins. Cincinnati jumps on the ball at the Knights’ 19-yard line. Ridder throws a TD pass four plays later. Seven points for the Bearcats after an error on the most basic level of football fundamentals.
Third turnover: Freshman cornerback Ahmad Gardner simply undercuts a throw from Gabriel to Gabriel and strolls 16 yards to complete the pick-six. Dillon Gabriel loves to stare down his receivers, and near his own end zone, Gardner was able to easily read and jump the throw. Seven more points.
Fourth turnover: Immediately after Cincinnati makes it a two-score game, the Knights tried to claw back by covering 61 yards in 10 plays. However, at the Bearcats’ 14, Gabriel’s pop pass over the middle is too high for Jake Hescock, bounces off the tight end’s outstretched right hand and is picked off at the 6. Cincinnati wouldn’t score on the ensuing drive, but it obviously took at least three points off the board. Maybe more.
The four turnovers matched the Knights’ season total coming in. And it’s fair to argue that, at the very least, they resulted in a 20-point swing: +14 for Cincy and -6 for UCF.
The East is a disaster, and the West remains anyone’s to win despite two undefeated teams. https://t.co/XEjblB7NeL— Joe Broback (@joebroback) October 7, 2019
4. Will we see Brandon Wimbush line up at wide receiver?
The Magic 8 Ball says: “Better luck next time.”
Safe to say that getting Wimbush involved out wide is far from being one of the Knights’ priorities right now. They have a hard enough time getting Killins, Otis Anderson, Marlon Williams, etc. involved as is. There are segments of this offense that are broken right now. Utilizing Wimbush on one or two trick plays per game can wait.