As we wind up for the kickoff of the 2021 football season, we are will spend this week asking answering our the five biggest questions we think the UCF Knights will have to answer coming into the season. But this year, we’re doing it a bit differently than in the past: Round Table Style.
Let’s start with our first question: What will Gus Malzahn’s offense look like in his first season at UCF?
The best answer I can come up with is “More Frosty than Heup.” Based on what I’ve seen from Gus watching his Auburn teams in the past and reading his book over the summer, we’ll see some new things, but not as many as you think.
As far as what will be the same, the tempo is the biggest part. Gus likes to move fast and catch defenses napping when he can. This is something Dillon Gabriel and the offensive line should be used to.
As far as what will be different, you can expect a lot more diversity on offense, with a particular focus on the lateral running game. The Air Raid is gone, and with it the all-9-routes-or-checkdown philosophy.
Gus likes to get defenses moving laterally and then hit ‘em where they ain’t, so expect a lot more running the ball, as well as Dillon Gabriel moving around out of the pocket. Let’s not forget he went to UCF instead of Army, and they don’t do a lot of throwing at West Point.
In 2019, Auburn averaged 199 yards/game running and 207 yards/game passing on a 58/42 run/pass ratio, and that was in the SEC. So I expect UCF’s offense to look more 2017ish than 2019ish.
Fans can expect three things:
One, there will be plenty of no-huddle. Gus Malzahn literally wrote the book on the no-huddle offense. It will be fast at times, but Malzahn is a more dynamic play-caller than Josh Heupel. While Heupel ran an air raid offense, Malzahn’s is much more creative in his playbook. Malzahn’s offense will have a lot more movement and misdirection.
Two, it will be not nearly as volatile as the Heupel air raid offense in terms of boom versus bust. Heupel’s offense could be summed up in two routes: Bubble screens and fly routes. With a quarterback like Dillon Gabriel, who has exhibited a high degree of accuracy on deep routes, it worked well. Unfortunately, it’s laden with flaws. If you don’t have an accurate deep passer, uh oh. Also, it leads to a higher percentage of three and outs, which will bring the defense back on the field before they get sufficient rest. UCF fans saw last year how bad this could leave a defense that is lacking in depth.
Three, expect plenty of points, but don’t expect as many 400-yard days for Dillon Gabriel. This is going to be a much more balanced offense with the running game getting plenty of action. Using a healthy combination of the running game, along with utilizing the short and medium thirds more will help wear the defense out. Then, using a bruiser back like Isaiah Bowser in the fourth quarter is going to really beat down a tired defensive front and that’s what this offense is going to want to do.
It might not be as lightning fast as the team has been in Gabriel’s last two seasons, but these guys aren’t going to be taking their time.
Dillon Gabriel has options deep, in the slot and on the outside and can go in any direction is best for him.
Considering the Hawaiian quarterback has seen two full years of college ball, I expect he’s going to process the offense far better than he has so far at UCF.
If you also throw in the fact that Malzahn’s offense is much more detail-oriented than Heupel’s, I think this could be the most successful season in Gabriel’s tenure as quarterback, which could lead to UCF’s most successful season since DG has taken over.
While I do not think this is necessarily the end of #UCFast, I think Gus will slow the offense down a little bit with a scheme that has a higher percentage of rushing plays than last season.
To put things numerically, UCF ran 859 plays last season, while Malzahn’s Auburn Tigers ran 754 plays. With Malzhan’s style of offense slowing things down a bit, the Knights offense should have a number of plays that falls somewhere between these two numbers. I’d wager somewhere in the 795-810 range.
Additionally, I think Malzahn will utilize Dillon Gabriel’s legs more. We are talking about a quarterback that caught the attention of Army, after all. Last season, Gabriel carried the ball 72 times, while Malzahn had Bo Nix carry the ball 108 times. If Gabriel impresses Malzahn enough with his rushing ability, I can see Gabriel running the ball around that 100 carry mark, perhaps more if he takes to the rushing attack really well.