What the Knights Learned vs. Stanford

Josh Heupel, UCF's second-year head football coach, is fond of saying his team pays little attention to the sort of outside noise that may nitpick about opponent conference designations. They prepare the same whether the other team represents the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the Pac-12 or the ACC (as the Knights four 2019 non-league foes do).
It's all about going 1-0 in each of those weeks, no matter the foe.
Still, there were more eyeballs on the Knights Saturday—thanks in part to an ESPN audience and thanks as well to the fact the opponent was Stanford. The same will be true this weekend, as UCF travels to face Pitt in Pittsburgh on ABC.
So, here are some final thoughts after UCF's win over Stanford:

  1. Don't sleep on the defense. When most people think about UCF they start with the pinball-like numbers put up by the Knights' offense. And rightfully so, including so far in 2019 with Josh Heupel's crew averaging better than 600 yards and 51 points per outing. And even though UCF did that again Saturday versus Stanford in scoring TDs on four straight possessions to start the game (covering 205 yards), it might not have been quite the same had the Knights' defense not so effectively pushed the Cardinal off-kilter to begin the action. Stanford went three and out three straight times, with quarterback K.J. Costello misfiring on six of his first seven throws. And one of those six was intercepted and run back to the Cardinal one. The visitors never recovered from that stark contrast in starts. 
  2. And the Knights continue to hang with . . . . National statistical rankings again list UCF among names in the conversation at the top echelon of this week's NCAA numbers. Overall, the Knights rank in the national top 10 in 15 different NCAA categories—and lead the AAC in 12. Here's where UCF stands:
    --1st in first downs (ahead of Louisiana, Hawaii, Ohio State and Oklahoma)
    --1st in tackles for loss (ahead of USF, Illinois, Penn State and Ohio State)
    --3rd in total offense (behind Oklahoma and Utah State)
    --4th in pass efficiency defense (behind only Wisconsin, Missouri and Notre Dame)
    --6th in scoring offense (behind Baylor, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, LSU and Maryland)
    --6th in yards per pass completion (Notre Dame stands third)
  3. Cue the comparisons. True freshman Dillon Gabriel was ultra-impressive in a big-time, visible setting Saturday versus a Stanford secondary led by junior all-star corner Paulson Adebo. And though Heupel was loathe to anoint the rookie signal-caller as anything more than a very impressive cog in the UCF offensive wheel against the Cardinal, expect more comparisons to injured Knight quarterback McKenzie Milton. That duo comes from the same Hawaii high school—and UCF coaches will tell you how Milton kept badgering them to look hard at Gabriel as he continued to post major-league numbers at this time last fall as a high school senior. Their unique relationship makes for an intriguing dynamic. It's only mid-September and Gabriel has started all of two games at the collegiate level—yet he ranks third nationally in passing yards per completion, fourth in passing efficiency and seventh in TD passes. Stanford players—even grudgingly--had to be impressed with what they saw. 
  4. Listing UCF depth. So, who really cares who gets the credit if the Knights keep winning? UCF coaches have sold that in a big way to their players—and the numbers back it up. Four Knight backs have contributed between 143 and 258 net rushing yards—and all four average at least six yards per carry. Nine Knights have brought down at least one reception for a score—and six receivers have five or more catches. Seven players have 44 or more all-purpose yards per outing. On defense, seven players have a dozen or more tackles. A remarkable 15 players have at least one quarterback hurry—and 22 players appear on the tackle-for-loss list. Spread the wealth. 
  5. Check this one out. The most misleading number on the UCF stat sheet? Opponents are averaging 42.2 yards per punt against the Knights. What's missing is that UCF opponents are averaging exactly 10 punts per game to date in 2019. The NCAA doesn't have an official category for that—but it's safe to say that 10 opponent punts per game is a good ratio for successful Saturdays.