UCF - UConn: Five Things to Watch

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This hasn't happened for a while.
No UCF head coach has had to point his football team toward a week-later response from a loss since November 2016 when the Knights fell at home to Tulsa and then lost again a week later at USF in the regular-season finale.
In one sense, UCF head coach Josh Heupel is less worried about the opponent this week and more interested in his own team. How will his players respond? Heupel had no issue with his team's preparation or effort in Pittsburgh, yet that fine line between victory and defeat was on full display last weekend. Now, it's a matter of getting back to business and making that one extra play that helps translate to a 1-0 result.
Here are some areas to watch when the 22nd-rated Knights (3-1) play host to UConn (1-2):

  1. UCF is more than capable. Let's remember some of the things the Knights did even in defeat a week ago. They roared back from a 21-point deficit with 31 consecutive points of their own and were maybe a play here or there from putting the game into the victory column. They had seven offensive drives of at least 51 yards—and those 31 points went on the board over a time period of 13:30, less than a single quarter. From the start of the second period through early in the fourth quarter, UCF held Pitt to nine possessions that produced 35 or fewer yards. Yet, the Panthers, over the afternoon, had four drives of at least 72 yards. The home team ended with a 11:24 advantage in time of possession. In a one-point decision, it was a game where the loser would rue every penalty, every missed assignment or missed tackle. The Knights were one or two of those going to the other side of the ledger from being 4-0 today.   
  2. Dillon Gabriel learns something new every week—and that's good. Whatever confidence Gabriel gained in his first three mostly all-successful outings, he arguably learned even more from the adversity he faced at Pittsburgh. The Panthers put plenty of pressure on the freshman signal-caller, ganged up against the UCF run game and played tight coverage on early Knight attempts to throw the ball on the perimeter. When Pitt chose those routes, it left UCF receivers Gabriel Davis and Tre Nixon with many one-on-one matchups—and that translated into 65- and 28-yard catches by Davis, 32-, 50- and 37-yard grabs by Nixon, plus a 41-yarder by Jacob Harris. Gabriel threw for 249 yards after halftime. And this week against UConn, Gabriel and the Knight offensive coaches can guess at the approach the Huskies will take—yet, like any other week, they have to be prepared to adjust on the fly Saturday night based on what they ultimately see from the UConn defense.
  3. The skinny on UConn. The Huskies are coming off a pair of losses to Big Ten teams (Illinois and Indiana). Like UCF, UConn is playing a true freshman at quarterback in Jack Zergiotis (35 of 59 for 365 yards, 3 interceptions). UCF's Dillon Gabriel (63 of 104 for 1,057 yards, 11 TDs, 2 interceptions) leads the American Athletic Conference in passing efficiency (177.0 rating points), while the Huskies as a team are at the bottom of the league in that category. In terms of the run game, UConn averages 98.3 yards per game, while UCF is second in the league in rush defense at 113.2 per contest. The Huskie defense already has forced five opponent turnovers in 2019—after only 11 in all of 2018. 
  4. A little history for Knights fans. In this 150th year of college football, UCF has only been playing the game since 1979--and only at the FBS level since 1996. Sixty former players and coaches are set to return to campus this weekend for a 40th reunion of that inaugural 1979 season. The current UCF team will wear special helmet decals for this game to recognize that first team—and the '79ers, as they are known, will be recognized at halftime of the UCF-UConn game.   
  5. What motivation do these two teams have? For UCF, it's a chance to get back on the right side of the ledger and prove that one regular-season loss should be only a blip on the radar. It's also a chance to start AAC play on a positive note as the Knights chase down a third consecutive league crown. For UConn, it's a chance to make a statement in its final season in the AAC--the Huskies will begin competing as a football independent in 2020 while most of the rest of their teams join the Big East.