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Gus Bus vs. Heup Train: Same Production, Different Scheme

Thursday night’s win gives us new insight into Malzahn’s offensive philosophy at UCF

Boise State v UCF Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

247Sports’ Brandon Marcello spent a week behind closed doors with Coach Gus Malzahn and his UCF Knights football team leading up to their opener against Boise State. During his time in Orlando, one of the biggest interviews he got was from junior quarterback Dillon Gabriel in regards to his former coach, Josh Heupel.

Gabriel told Marcello:

“We get to the line quickly but there’s a lot more in the process that goes into it rather than with Heup. We’d line it, call it and try to be as fast as possible. At times it was really rushed [in 2020] because of how fast we played, so you’re just kind of learning on the fly with every play. You’re kinda just running to grass,”

Gabriel went on to note that scouting incorrectly predicted defensive looks in eight of ten games and that he “felt uneasy” under the play calling of Heupel.

Anybody who has followed UCF knows that Heupel’s offense was simple. The lack of complexity and inability to adapt to different situations was the main point of frustration for most fans. Having talents like Dillon Gabriel and McKenzie Milton covered up a lot of the mistakes and issues that are now coming to light.

With Josh Heupel leaving for Tennessee and Gus Malzahn taking over as head coach and offensive play caller, everyone was eager to see what the main differences in UCF’s offensive scheme would be. Malzahn, one of the founding fathers of the hurry-up, no-huddle offense, addressed his offensive tempo in Monday’s presser after the comeback win against Boise State:

“When we had the opportunity to pace I felt like our guys were flying around playing fast. At the times we needed to slow down, we would. I’m not a big, like, focus on have to win time of possession but we kept our defense off the field at times I felt like we needed to. Every game is going to be a little different. We’re going to play fast, I mean that’s who we are, but at the same time we were strategic with times we’d play fast and sometimes hold back.”

Adjusting the pace of the offense based on the flow of the game and knowing when the defense needs a break might be the biggest fundamental difference between Heupel and Malzahn. The speed Heupel’s offense was playing at made the defensive unit struggle and they were vocal about their displeasure after Heupel’s departure. Giving the defense a chance to breathe between drives proved pivotal as they held Boise State to only 20 rushing yards and 283 total yards.

Another difference that was made apparent in UCF’s first game under Malzahn was the creativity behind some of his plays.

In Marcello’s article, Gabriel recalled the 2020 Georgia Tech game play calls, noting he only threw 12-yard fall outs and verticals, with a hand full of out routes.

“With Gus, I truly feel like we’re scheming things up, getting into looks you like, giving you answers and if he doesn’t like the look, he checks it, which is something I like,” Gabriel told Marcello.

On paper, the Knights ran 88 plays against Boise State and racked up 573 yards, which is right in line with what you would have seen from Heupel’s offense. But beyond the numbers, the offense has become much different in so many ways, and it all seems for the better. Without boosters in his ear telling him what to do, Gus can finally run his offense the way he wants to, and I think UCF is in for a big season under his play calling.