Here’s what I was looking forward to seeing in Week 3. Below is what I saw.
1. Can the Knights take advantage of Stanford’s O-line injuries?
They certainly tried. The stats look mundane — no sacks, six tackles for loss — but I thought the UCF Knights created a lot of pressure and crowded pockets for Stanford Cardinal quarterback K.J. Costello in the first half. Specifically, defensive end Randy Charlton was a terror early on. He was having his way with true freshman left tackle Walter Rouse, who was filling in for injured All-American tackle Walker Little. Honestly, multiple Knights got past Rouse a few times.
The defensive line wasn’t able to create as much push in the second half, but one thing that struck me while re-watching the game is just how often UCF ran stunts up front (decent explainer video there if you don’t know that terminology). The Knights didn’t do that nearly as much versus FAU, and I assume it was implemented to try to take advantage of Stanford’s issues at both tackle spots. I’m interested to hear what D-line coach Shane Burnham says Tuesday about that game plan and how he thought it played out. Defenses stunt to confuse offensive linemen, but you’ve got to be able to move swiftly to make that work well. If nothing else, those many stunts show how this year’s defense, as we heard all throughout training camp, is more athletic than the 2018 edition.
2. Who wins: WR Gabriel Davis or CB Paulson Adebo?
Davis. No contest. I mean, look at this nastiness for starters.
In this hotly anticipated matchup, Davis pulled in four of seven targets for 63 yards and a score, which came thanks in large part to that double move above.
But it’s not like Adebo did anything to force the incompletions on those three other targets, as I mentioned earlier today.
Those 3 incompletions had nothing to do with Adebo.— Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy) September 16, 2019
One would've been a 41-yard gain, but Davis' left foot landed out of bounds.
One was a route mixup between Davis and Dillon Gabriel.
One was a missed throw that should've been another TD because look at how open Davis is. (2/3) pic.twitter.com/BtO33bgd9Y
Davis knew that he and Dillon Gabriel could take advantage of Adebo’s aggressiveness, and they did so with fantastic results. Davis also knew about the national recognition that Adebo received during the preseason. I asked him Monday if he thought his performance against a possible first-round NFL Draft pick was a coming-out party of sorts, announcing himself to the nation. Davis seems to think that people are already late to the party.
“I feel like all these people are saying these things about me, but I’ve been doing it every single week,” Davis said. “I’ve worked for this opportunity to go against these guys and show that I can compete against them. I know that a lot of people did know; I just hadn’t had the opportunity to show other people that I could do it.”
As I pointed out in my checklist preview, Adebo is extremely tough to deny when the ball is in the air. But Davis was able to really out-muscle him for a 20-yard gain on a perfectly thrown ball over the middle of the field in the first quarter. And then in the second quarter, as was pointed out to me on Twitter, Adebo also made Marlon Williams’ highlight reel, too.
Sure did. Had to go back to look for it but, yeah, Gabriel scrambled around and just threw it up to Marlon, who was between Adebo and a linebacker. Williams, in front of Adebo, simply jumps higher than him to snag it. Thanks for this.— Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy) September 16, 2019
Honestly, UCF, and especially Davis, made Adebo look silly in this game.
3. How will the Knights employ their three-headed quarterback monster?
I’ll just leave this here:
Not mentioned in that column of mine was Gabriel’s sickest throw of the afternoon: It didn’t count due to a holding penalty, but the situation was first and 10 at the UCF 16 in the second quarter. Gabriel stared down Tre Nixon, who looked to be trapped by a defensive back along the sidelines. Gabriel scrambled in Nixon’s direction, and somehow, Nixon squeezed past his man. Just as he broke free and began running again, Gabriel released a dart that led Nixon 10 yards downfield, and the Ole Miss transfer ripped it out of the air for a 29-yard gain.
Again, it didn’t count, and since Greg McCrae ran for 73 yards on the following play, it was quickly forgotten. But that was a jarring moment that once against showed how Gabriel is the truth.
Heupel is asked if Dillon Gabriel will be his starting QB this week:— Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy) September 16, 2019
"He's definitely going to play. He's earned that opportunity." #UCF
4. Which team controls the pace?
As it turns out, Stanford probably had no shot of winning this contest without UCF committing a handful of turnovers. Minus that, the length of their drives is meaningless.
But the Cardinal’s offense couldn’t stay on the field when it did have the ball. Seven of their first eight drives ended with a punt or a turnover, and they all took less than 3 minutes and 40 seconds. Stanford had registered three drives of 7 minutes or longer in its first two games. They had no such drives against the Knights and just two drives that took up more than 5 minutes. Unfortunately for Stanford, both of those came after halftime, when the outcome was already decided.