So what happened Saturday night? The UCF Knights responded by demolishing the UConn Huskies on both sides of the ball for 40 minutes.
We still have yet to see the Black and Gold really impose their will on an opponent for a full game this season, but when you take a 42-0 lead early in the second quarter and then deploy your backups for the entire second half, you can’t really nit-pick when the other team scores the stinkiest of garbage-time points against third-stringers.
The bottom line is that Saturday night unfolded largely as everyone thought it would — and that probably includes the Huskies.
This game was like a throwaway episode from your favorite TV show. You know the one: It’s that midseason episode in which nothing really memorable happens, but maybe foreshadows a bunch of storylines to be developed later. Nothing really stood out in the immediate aftermath of this game. But it could be one we are drawn back to in the future because there were a handful of interesting bits that entered the nascent stage Saturday night. Let’s examine them in no particular order.
Darriel Mack Jr. is the new QB2...?
This is the beginning of a theme because, for me, Saturday night was about the backups. They played literally half the game after the starters did what they were supposed to do against arguably the worst team in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
No backup will receive more attention than Mack, who saw his first action of the season after breaking his ankle prior to training camp. He was fine: 9-for-13 passing for 97 yards, one touchdown and ran for 27 more yards on six carries.
Let’s nip this in the bud right now: There is no QB controversy here. This is Dillon Gabriel’s team. Leave that there, please.
But is Mack now the new immediate backup? Up until now, we’ve seen Brandon Wimbush used sparingly as a running quarterback for a couple of plays behind Gabriel before Quadry Jones would be unleashed as the late-game/mop-up QB.
But on Saturday night, Jones was on the sidelines in street clothes. We did see Wimbush for one play again, but only because Mack’s helmet came off at the end of a third-quarter run, forcing him to sit out one snap. If Mack is indeed whom Heupel would turn to if something happened to his starter, at least that’s a role Mack should be comfortable with; it would be a repeat of how he was used last year.
So, is Brandon Wimbush a wide receiver now?
Well, since Wimbush lined up behind center and threw a pass for his only snap versus the Huskies, the answer is still “No.” But he was definitely not warming up with the quarterbacks prior to the game, I’ll tell you that.
A couple of days after the FAU game — the one in which Gabriel was a surprise starter while Wimbush nursed a minor injury — I asked Josh Heupel if he has considered using one of his hyper-athletic QBs such as Wimbush at another position. His answer was unequivocal.
“Our guys are quarterbacks, man.”
And for now, Wimbush still is a quarterback during games. But what Wimbush did prior to kickoff gave us something to track from here on out.
Uh, where was Randy Charlton?
Safety Richie Grant was listed as team captain, went out for the coin toss and is listed on the team’s game participation chart. But if he played, I must have missed him both during the game and on tape once I watched the game again this morning.
And look, it was UConn. It makes sense to rest a lot of players with a short practice week and a flight to Cincinnati upcoming. That’s likely why the starters on both sides of the ball were out of the game as the Knights came out of halftime. I imagine that’s also why the likes of Brendon Hayes, Kenny Turnier and Cam Goode saw very limited snaps.
And hey, at least Grant was on the sidelines during the game. But where was Charlton? Everyone I talked to both in the press box and on the field didn’t see him anywhere.
All Heupel would say about the matter after the game is that he expected both Grant and Charlton to be “100 percent, ready to go next Friday night.”
OK. But for your starting defensive end to be completely out of sight for no reason ain’t normal, to say the least. There is more to this story than we know right now.
A Knight of firsts
Since the Knights were basically facing an FCS team, they treated this game as such in the second half, letting A LOT of guys get some live action. More than 70 UCF players got into the game, according to that participation chart. And there are some notable takeaways from that list.
— Sophomore safety Derek Gainous got his first career start as a Knight in place of Grant. He led the team with eight tackles.
— Players who also got their first start include defensive lineman Kalia Davis, who saw a lot of snaps at D-end prior to this game but played more at tackle on Saturday. Stephon Zayas notched his first start at defensive end. It’s also worth noting that after Antwan Collier was ejected for targeting in the first half, Jon Powell saw a lot of snaps at safety.
— Multiple Knights also made their 2019 debut, including wide receiver Jarrad Baker, who caught a 10-yard pass; center and Hagerty High alum Matthew Lee; and defensive lineman Davonchae Bryant.
And let’s end with the most important first: UCF is #1And0 in conference play.
For as frustrating as the Pitt loss felt, it didn’t knock the Knights off course from one of their ultimate goals, and that’s winning the American Athletic Conference championship. Saturday was the first step in that direction. It was an easily predicted step bereft of any suspense or conFLiCt (sorry), but its significance as a means to a triumphant end can’t be understated.
If Mack has to replace Gabriel later, if Wimbush lines up out wide, if any of those unheralded Knights make an impact or if UCF repeats as AAC champs, you can point to Saturday night as to when it all began.