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Knee-Jerk Reactions: #15 UCF 51, East Carolina 28

Bad start, awesome finish

NCAA Football: Central Florida at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Game two of what could probably be the strangest season we will ever see is in the books as the 15th ranked UCF Knights traveled up north and laid a beat down on the East Carolina Pirates 51-28. This was UCF’s first conference game and ECU’s first overall game of the season after struggling with COVID-19. The game announcers might have been calling the game for separate locations and there might have been only about 350 people in the stands, but that won’t stop us from having some knee-jerk reactions.

Highlights

This was the Dillon Gabriel and Marlon Williams Show...again

UCF’s offense is about speed. It tires defenses and gets them out of position by not allowing them to make personnel adjustments. UCF’s offense generates a lot of yardage, but tends to have a semblance of balance.

Not today.

The Knights’ running game struggled to create much of a rhythm for the first two and a half quarters. The ECU defense was running a 3-4 defense with four linebackers, which gives them a shorter field of responsibility, but also gives them a little extra time to react to running plays. When did the running game have its best runs? When wide receiver Marlon Williams lined up in the backfield and operated as the lead blocker. Both Bentavius Thompson and Greg McCrae benefited greatly from the lead blocking from Williams. Through the first two games, UCF has yet to have a 100 yard rusher. Williams also shined in the passing game. For the second straight game, he was the game’s leading receiver in receptions, catching 13 passes for 136 yards. He had big shoes to fill coming into 2020 with the loss of Gabriel Davis and has not disappointed.

UCF vs East Carolina Football Photo by Conor Kvatek/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

Dillon Gabriel had another excellent game. He showed vision and faith in his receivers. His third and fourth touchdown passes were thrown to allow Jacob Harris and Jaylon Robinson to put their bodies in between the throw and the defender by each cutting their routes inside. This required understanding the speed of each receiver and anticipating their location while adjusting for throwing on the run. That isn’t easy and in both cases, Gabriel did it with ease. Unlike last week, the Pirates defense did not put much pressure on Gabriel and he made them pay.

It was later in the game when things were in hand that the running game picked up.

Offensive penalties are a major problem

The game could not have started worse for UCF’s offense.

  • False Start
  • False Start
  • False Start
  • False Start

I’m not kidding. Before UCF ran an official play, the Knights offense committed four straight false start penalties. This is a problem.

UCF vs East Carolina Football Photo by Conor Kvatek/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

UCF had eight penalties in the win against Georgia Tech. Seven of those were on offense. UCF had 13 penalties against ECU in the first half alone. Seven of them were false starts. UCF’s offense is prolific enough that they were able to overcome some of those penalties and. They finished with 19 penalties for 139 yards with eight being false starts. The Knights had eight penalties last week with six being false starts. This is a recurring issue dating back to 2019.

The defense’s outside containment was criminally exposed

In a Nickel defense, which UCF primarily runs, the outside containment at the line of scrimmage is the responsibility of the defensive ends. If they over pursue getting around the pocket, they leave an opening for a quarterback or running back to run to the outside with a lot of real estate to work with. The defense gave up double digit yards on multiple occasions as a result of either over pursuit or pushing too far inside.

What happened when they properly contained the outside? A failed third down attempt with ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers having nowhere to go. The defense also started running more 4-3 defense personnel later in the game, which helped improve the front end defense and forced Ahlers to win in the air, not the ground.

NCAA Football: Central Florida at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Ahlers started extremely well, going 5/5 for 67 yards with 19 yards on the ground as the Knights gave up a touchdown on the opening drive for the second straight game. As the game wore on, Ahlers’ accuracy waned. This was due to the combination of a few factors. His running style is very upright. Ahlers is a very strong player and wants to hit people. He took and delivered a number of straight up hits. He ran the ball 12 times for 55 yards. All of that, combined with tiring from being on the field a lot due to UCF’s routine time of possession disparity, made his play diminish as the game wore on. They will need to shore up their containment by the time Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder comes to town.

The Knights defense was opportunistic again, forcing four fumbles and recovering three while adding in a touchdown saving interception. The offense failed to capitalize and they only scored a pair of field goals on those four turnovers. That’s not on the defense. The defense has created a noteworthy nine turnovers so far this season.

As the team continues to figure itself out, new faces are finding themselves on the field. They should have another opportunity to get some work in as the Knights open their four game home season next week against Tulsa.

Stat Leaders

Passing
UCF: Dillon Gabriel: 32/47 for 408 yards, 4 TD, 0 Int
ECU: Holton Ahlers: 14/29 for 215 yards, 3 TD, 1 Int

Rushing
UCF: Greg McCrae: 16 carries for 83 yards, 1 TD
ECU: Keaton Mitchell: 8 carries for 66 yards, 0 TD

Receiving
UCF: Jaylon Robinson: 9 catches for 150 yards, 2 TD
ECU: Audie Omotosho: 3 catches for 56 yards, 0 TD

Game Notes

  • In the last 41 games for UCF, they have had 40 games of 30 points or more. The Knights have won 37 of those 41, including four wins against top 25 teams and five wins against Power Five conference teams.
  • UCF has the longest active streak of games with at least one passing and one rushing touchdown
  • Dillon Gabriel has thrown for at least four hundred yards and four touchdowns in two consecutive games. This has never been done at UCF.
  • Dillon Gabriel set a school record with 18 straight completions.
  • Dillon Gabriel is undefeated at 10-0 when he throws zero interceptions.
  • Marlon Williams’ 13 receptions is a career high.
  • East Carolina is the FBS school UCF has played more than any other school at 16 times since the Knights made the jump up in 1996. UCF is 9-7 in those games. The overall series is 10-9 in favor of ECU. UCF has won the last five match-ups and eight out of the last ten.
  • UCF and ECU have a connection in Ron Dowdy. Dowdy is an East Carolina graduate who gave a million dollar contribution during a fundraising drive in 1994 and Ficklen Memorial Stadium was renamed Dowdy-Ficklen Memorial Stadium. Dowdy has been an Orlando resident since the early 1970s and was inducted into the Central Florida Hospitality Hall of Fame through UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management in 2015. He is very active with multiple civic organizations in Orlando.
  • Believe it or not, today’s number of penalties or yards did not break a school record. The single game record is 23 penalties for 188 yards against Bethune Cookman back in 1988.
  • The school record for total number of penalties was set in 2019 with 111. Through two games in 2020, UCF has 26.
  • Sorry this isn’t my best. I’ll try harder next time.