What the Knights Learned vs. Pittsburgh

UCF football coach Josh Heupel and his players worked hard Saturday night to assure anyone within shouting distance that all the 2019 goals remain intact for the Knights—even in light of a rare regular-season loss, the first time that had happened to UCF in nearly three years (actually 1,037 days).
Here's what is ahead for the Knights (now 3-1):
--They head into American Athletic Conference play this week with an 18-game conference win streak, the longest in the country.
--They head into a sold-out home matchup with UConn with a 17-game home win streak at Spectrum Stadium.
--They begin their play for a third consecutive AAC title, after UCF won both its division crowns and league championship games in both 2017 and 2018.
--At 3-1 they remain ranked (22nd AP, 23rd coaches), the first time a ranked UCF team has lost a game and remained in the polls.
So, with all that said, here are some final thoughts after UCF's late one-point loss at Pittsburgh:

  1. Rev up the run. So far in 2019 Josh Heupel's crew is averaging 559 total offensive yards and more than 47 points per outing. Yet Pitt found a way to make running the football more difficult than normal for the Knights, who were limited to 132 ground yards gained and 85 net rushing yards (Adrian Killins led the way with 46, while Greg McCrae contributed 40, against a dozen tackles for loss for the Panthers). So look for the Knights to find a way to re-establish that aspect of their attack in a bigger way. 
  2. And the Knights continue to hang with . . . . National statistical rankings again list UCF among names in the conversation at the upper echelon of this week's NCAA numbers. Overall, the Knights rank in the national top 10 in nine different NCAA categories—and lead the AAC in six. Here's where UCF stands:
    --3rd in first downs (Ohio State leads the way)
    --5th in tackles for loss (Illinois is number one this week)
    --6th in yards per pass completion
    --7th in total offense (Oklahoma is atop that list)
    --7th in pass efficiency defense (Wisconsin is first)
    --8th in scoring offense (LSU tops that chart)
  3. He's still a freshman. First-year quarterback Dillon Gabriel made plenty of plays Saturday (25 of 42 throwing for 338 yards and two TDs) to bring the Knights back from their early three-touchdown deficit. In fact, he threw for 344 yards in the final three periods combined, considering his total after one period was minus-six yards. But the first thrown interceptions of the young Knights' season ended two of UCF's first four possessions, and Pitt found ways to sack him a half-dozen times. So keep in mind that, as impressive as Gabriel has been, he has only started three games at the college level. 
  4. What's the buzz now? There's little question that, fair or not, UCF's last two games against Stanford and Pitt merited additional national attention (not to mention television exposure via ESPN and ABC, respectively). So, now that the Knights—for the first time since 2016—can't say they are unbeaten during the regular season, what will the narrative be relative to the Knights? From a practical standpoint, it will be back to trying to go 1-0 each of the next eight (and hopefully more) weeks.
  5. On to the AAC. With non-conference play concluded, the Knights switch their focus to league opponents over these next eight games. Coincidentally, there are three unbeaten teams remaining in the AAC—SMU at 4-0, Memphis at 3-0 and Navy at 2-0—but none of those three are 2019 regular-season opponents for UCF. But among the three one-loss AAC teams—Tulane at 3-1, Cincinnati and Temple both at 2-1—the Knights face all three on the road yet this fall.