The 2020 UCF Knights football season kicked off in unconventional fashion as the Knights defeat the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 49-21. After the schedule was turned on its head and with multiple cancellations, UCF’s first game took place during week three of the season. It’s time for a little normalcy, which means it’s knee-jerk reaction time.
UCF’s offense had a Jekyll/Hyde game
Over the last few seasons, UCF has become known for their fast paced and high scoring offense. They lost a number of playmakers due to graduation or leaving early for the NFL. In the first half, the UCF offense started moving and became more efficient as the half wore on. Inside the last two minutes though, things started to get sloppy. The third quarter was simply awful. The Knights had five drives, running 23 plays for only 79 yards with four penalties and a turnover. Zero points.
So what changed? The Yellow Jackets started to crash the line, causing quarterback Dillon Gabriel to lose comfort. The interception thrown was on a pass where Gabriel’s arm was hit and the ball meekly flew in the air and was easily intercepted. In the third quarter while under pressure, Gabriel went 3/11 for 54 yards with an interception and a pair of sacks. This is a problem UCF fans will remember and groan about as all three losses last year were when the defense crashed the line and put pressure on Gabriel. Despite the rough quarter, Gabriel had an excellent rest of the game. He passed for over 400 yards with three touchdowns and ran for 30 yards on 8 carries. UCF ended up gaining 660 yards on offense and averaged 7.2 yards per play. This is encouraging as the Georgia Tech defense showed in both their win against Florida State and this game that they are able to bring some serious pressure.
Offensive penalties are a problem. Seven of the eight penalties on the game were offensive penalties with six false starts. A degree of patience will be needed as this is the first game of a nine game regular season.
The defense needs work
We’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t expect the defense to struggle a bit. UCF started the game on their heels by giving up a big kickoff return of 75 yards by freshman Jahmyr Gibbs on his first play in college as a ball carrier. This set the Yellow Jackets up with a short field and quarterback freshman Jeff Sims made easy work of a shell shocked defensive front with a quick UCF-like score in under a minute. It’s worth noting that Gibbs isn’t the normal starter for the team as Jordan Mason was held out of the game for unknown reasons.
The Knights settle down and bent a lot, but didn’t break often, allowing the offense to build up a lead. It helped that Sims is a freshman and made freshman-like mistakes, including being inaccurate on many deep passes. Sims and Gibbs each have the foundation to be really good by the time they play UCF again in 2022.
The Knights defense has been primarily running out of the nickel, which has been problematic against option quarterbacks. With four down linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs, there are two problems: One, there is a lot of pressure on the linebackers to cover a lot of space and the Knights had trouble with speedy runners in Sims and Gibbs. Second, the defensive backs are a bit thin as starter Tay Gowan and JUCO transfer Devunte Dawson each opted out. Freshman Corey Thornton got some valuable playing time and had a big first down saving tackle on Sims on fourth down late in the game.
Like the offense, the expectation is that the game film and experience should help UCF do better next game at East Carolina.
UCF and Georgia Tech have a shared history
UCF and Georgia Tech have a shared football history in recent years. Let’s count the ways:
- George O’Leary was honored by Georgia Tech. He was 52-33 with a conference championship over eight seasons at GT from 1994-2001 and 81-68 with four conference championships over 12 seasons at UCF from 2004-2015.
- GT athletic director Todd Stansbury was AD at UCF from 2012-2015.
- GT head coach Geoff Collins is a former UCF assistant coach from 2008-09.
- GT assistant head coach Brent Key was an assistant at UCF from 2005-2015.
- GT defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker was a graduate assistant at UCF in 2008-09 with Collins.
- GT Offensive quality control specialist Will Glover was an offensive quality control assistant at UCF in 2013 and a graduate assistant in 2014.
- GT associate director of player personnel Mike Gregory graduated from UCF in 2009.
UCF: Dillon Gabriel: 27/41 for 417 yards, 4 TD, 1 Int
GT: Jeff Sims: 18/36 for 244 yards, 1 TD, 2 Int
UCF: Otis Anderson: 18 carries for 88 yards, 1 TD
GT: Jeff Sims: 17 carries for 82 yards, 1 TD
UCF: Marlon Williams: 10 catches for 154 yards, 2 TD
GT: Jahmyr Gibbs: 4 catches for 60 yards, 1 TD
- In the last 40 games for UCF, they have had 39 games of 30 points or more. The Knights have won 36 of those 40, including four wins against top 25 teams and five wins against Power Five conference teams.
- Dillon Gabriel’s 417 yards passing is tied for the 7th most in UCF history and a personal best.
- UCF had five takeaways.
- Georgia Tech had won 13 consecutive home openers coming into 2020.
- UCF has won 13 of its last 15 openers.
- Geoff Collins is 0-3 against UCF. All three games were lost by double digits. He was 0-2 while at Temple.
- This is Dillon Gabriel’s first win where he has thrown an interception.
- Georgia Tech punter Pressley Harvin III is my favorite non-UCF player. He’s 6ft and weighs 255lbs. He wears 27 in honor of former Nebraska punter Sam Foltz, who was killed in a car accident back in 2016. He also wears his old shoulder pads from high school. It’s quite the sight: