Replay: UCF motto is talk less, play more

Game Recap

The questions—some fastballs down the middle, some curveballs that dropped off a table--came from all directions.
Fans, media, alumni—seemingly everyone—begged someone from UCF to say that playing Stanford, a Power 5 Pacific-12 Conference member, meant more than usual.
They tried that line of questioning early and often, from the moment the Knights' win at Florida Atlantic went into the books until a few late postgame raindrops began to fall early Saturday evening at Spectrum Stadium.
They lobbed them in from left field and they tried to sneak them past the unsuspecting. They tried respect and they tried lack of respect.
Yet, in the end, neither the questions nor the answers (from the ever politically correct UCF players and coaches) really mattered much at all.
And that's because whatever questions anyone had about the Knights' football program were answered in absolutely emphatic fashion in a first half in which UCF gained 413 yards and built a 38-7 lead over Stanford.
That was about all anyone needed to see in what turned into a 45-27 Knights' victory.
It was statement making, even if no one actually had to state anything.
Power 5, Power 6, Group of 5. None of it seems to matter these days.
And that's because UCF is a very, very good football team that just keeps winning, no matter who shows up on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
The pregame locker room scene was a familiar one.
There was injured quarterback McKenzie Milton going locker to locker, player to player, shaking hands.
There was a looseness and a confidence that suggested the Knights knew they were prepared.
Most players listened to their own brand of music—and then there was freshman defensive end Tre'mon Morris-Brash walking around and screaming, 'Let's go! Let's go!" in a particularly high-pitched affected voice, as if being cooped up in a locker room had already become tiresome.
Then at about 3:26, still minutes before the timing sheet said the Knights were slated to take the field, Spectrum Stadium began bouncing and that's impossible to miss in the locker room. UCF players gathered around the double doors heading to the field long before head coach Josh Heupel appeared to lead them out after offering a few last words:
"Attack, attack, attack. Play as hard as you possibly can. The ball is ours—it loves us today. You gotta go make it happen. Let's go take this one play at a time."
Next came a first half that was clinical in its precision.
For the third straight week UCF scored a touchdown on its opening drive.
As glossy as the Knights' offensive numbers were—and they were extremely shiny—it was maybe the UCF defense that set the tone as much as anything.
Even with quarterback K.J. Costello back in the saddle for the Cardinal, Stanford went three and out on its first three possessions. And, by then, maybe it was already too late for the visitors.
By then UCF led 21-0 and the game wasn't even seven minutes old. Stanford did not have a first down and had run nine plays for all of 14 yards—and Dillon Gabriel already had thrown a pair of TD strikes while nickel back Aaron Robinson set up a third score with a 40-yard interception return.
At that point UCF students in the south end zone raised their massive "Welcome to the Knightmare" sign. And it certainly was apropos.
Stanford made some use of the wildcat offense to give UCF a different look and scored one TD in part off that change of pace. But the Knights kept coming.
They scored TDs on their first four possessions and five of their first seven in the opening half. UCF had 235 total yards in the first period alone—in which Gabriel threw for 186 yards and three scores.
At halftime UCF had those 413 total yards and Gabriel had completed 14 of 20 throws for 250 yards.
Just for comparisons, in 2018 Stanford allowed an average of only 410 yards in each entire football game.
The Knights left the field at halftime to an appropriate ovation. Yet, there was only one problem with having a 31-point lead at intermission: It's hard to play much better than that and yet there's a full half of football remaining.
"Zero-zero. Go play. Sixty minutes. Zero-zero," was Heupel's battle cry as he entered the locker room.
Then, after 15 minutes of instruction from the coaching staff the Knights' head coach left them with a few more thoughts:
"Go back out there and do it one play at a time. Have some urgency. Keep your feet on the gas. Finish this thing out!"
Stanford made some inroads after the break (on one drive converting on four straight third-down throws), and the Knights barely missed on a fourth-down run at the Cardinal 25.
Gabriel nailed yet another downfield strike, for 40 yards to Jacob Harris, and then found tight end Jake Hescock for a fourth TD pass (with Hescock becoming the ninth UCF player in three games to haul in at least one scoring toss).
The Knights did all they could to move the clock along in the second half (21 rushes to only 10 passes in the final two periods). Yet, the issue, frankly, probably had long since been decided.
It was even more telling that UCF's lack of scoring in the third period Saturday ended a remarkable streak of 37 consecutive quarters scoring points.
By the end Gabriel had an off-the-charts one-game passing efficiency rating of 214.5 and this morning he sits fourth in the country in that category at 206.6 (some rather well-known names from Oklahoma, LSU and Alabama are just ahead).
Greg McCrae had another 100-yard rushing day, Gabriel Davis fared well (four catches for 63 yards and a score) in his matchup with Stanford all-star cornerback Paulson Adebo—and the UCF defense accounted for six tackles for loss, nine pass breakups and a half-dozen quarterback hurries.
"Hey, we talk about starting fast. Man, that was the epitome of starting fast right there," Heupel said to his team once it had ended.
He gave game balls to Robinson, the entire defense and the entire offense.
"Enjoy this one tonight and when we come in on Monday we all know we're only as good as our next one," he said.
The Knights (3-0) as of this morning now have rung up more first downs than any other team in the country. They lead the nation in tackles for loss (11.3 per game). They average more than 604 total yards per game.
And next week there's another Power 5 opponent awaiting in UCF's visit to Pittsburgh (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC)—and so Heupel and his staff and players can anticipate another round of questions about what it all means.
And the Knights, as they generally do, will likely say little and do their best to offer this next week's response on the grass at Heinz Field.
Teddy Roosevelt likely would have been a UCF fan.
Because the Knights apparently have adopted his mantra of speaking softly and carrying a big stick.