Replay: Knights Fire on All Cylinders

It was Military Appreciation Day at Spectrum Stadium Saturday—with UCF coaches wearing camouflage caps and Knight players sporting helmets with red, white and blue logos and stripes recognizing selected branches of service.
So it proved wholly appropriate that the UCF offense received major contributions from both its aerial and ground troops—with the Knights' quick-strike capabilities on full display.
Josh Heupel's defensive regiments fought so effectively that the Knights' battle with league rival UConn effectively was over by halftime. At the midpoint of the fracas, UCF led 42-0 on its way to a later 56-0 advantage and a final 56-21 triumph.
This marked the first of eight straight American Athletic Conference confrontations (and the final one against the Huskies since UConn will withdraw from the AAC after 2019-20).
The Knights' field general understood all the questions that had been lobbed his way all week about the potential UCF response to the one-point loss at Pittsburgh last weekend. After all, it marked the first regular-season defeat in Heupel's two-year head coaching career and the first in the middle of a college season for many of the Knights.
And UCF fans had to love the surgical precision with which the Knights did their jobs.
"Be us tonight. Play harder, play longer. The ball loves us tonight. Be us," emphasized Heupel to his players in the pregame locker room.
The message? This was more about how the Knights handled their assignments than it was about the opponent.
UConn's third play from scrimmage (and true freshman Jack Zergiotis' first pass of the evening) was intercepted by UCF junior free safety Antwan Collier (the third of his career). Forty-three seconds later the Knights led 7-0.
Three UConn plays later, Stephon Zayas recovered a fumble by Zergiotis at the Huskie 35. That one did not turn into UCF points, but after a UConn three and out (followed by a punt), Dillon Gabriel found Gabriel Davis for a 73-yard touchdown strike. It was 14-0  less than eight minutes into the fray.
UConn changed quarterbacks, but that didn't change much. Redshirt freshman Steven Krajewski's first throw was intercepted by Nevelle Clarke and run back 48 yards to the end zone.
After another UConn punt, Adrian Killins dashed 75 yards on the first play (the longest run in 2019 by a Knight)—and it was 28-0 with a minute left in the opening quarter.
That first period featured 199 total yards by the home team, even though the Huskies held the ball for 10:34. In the opening 15 minutes UConn had as many thrown interceptions as it had completions.
And it never really got any better for the visitors.
Even when a Connecticut punt backed the Knights onto their own three-yard line, UCF spent 2:26 to travel those 97 yards—with Gabriel again zeroing in on Davis for the final 16 yards. Gabriel connected on all five of his throws on that drive for 70 yards and the 35-0 lead. To that point the freshman UCF quarterback had completed nine of 10 throws for 194 yards.
A fourth UConn turnover—this time a sack and fumble recovery by tackle Kalia Davis—set the home team up on the Huskie 14. On the second play Gabriel found Davis for 13 yards and a 42-0 lead. At that point Gabriel had thrown only a single incomplete pass.
Gabriel's mid-game quarterback rating was 339—and Davis had five receptions for 119 yards and three scores. Only one player in the country has more TD catches in 2019 than Davis' eight. The DG-to-GD combo is alive and well.
Two missed field goals comprised UConn's first half opportunities--and, in many ways, even in the absence of a white flag, the battle had been determined at intermission by the UCF barrage right out of the chute. The Huskies could never establish a beachhead and that cost them dearly.
"How good can we be? How well can we play in the second half?" came the shouts as the Knights entered the locker room.
Noted defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, "We've got to challenge ourselves as a group in the second half. No missed tackles. Let's see if we can take the next step."
"Let's play the way we play," challenged Heupel as his team prepared for the second-half skirmish. "Thirty more minutes."
The Knights mostly utilized their reserves the entire second half (especially on offense), with Darriel Mack Jr. going the whole way at quarterback in his first appearance of 2019 (and finishing 9 of 13 for 97 yards and a TD). Mack led UCF to scores on 76- and 47-yard drives to begin the third quarter—with that 56-0 margin ending any UConn hopes of mounting a legitimate counterattack.
Bentavious Thompson (71 rushing yards) had 11 second-half ground attempts—more than the combined total of Killins, Greg McCrae and Otis Anderson from the opening two periods.
Gabriel's air raid averaged 25 yards per completion (11 of 16 for 281 yards, 3 TDs), and the UCF offense reached the 600-yard mark for the second time in 2019.
Sophomore safety Derek Gainous went on patrol for eight tackles in the close-combat assault, while freshman linebacker Tatum Bethune was next with seven. The Knights had seven tackles for loss, two each by Kalia Davis and freshman linebacker Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste.
UCF marched at its typical cadence (six TD drives lasted 1:26 or less). The visitors ended with an advantage of more than 16 minutes in time of possession, yet that figure proved meaningless in the final assessment.
"Ones (the UCF starters), in all three phases, early in the game, heck of a job," complimented Heupel.
"You went out there, got turnovers and played the right way."
Any celebration became short-lived with a 3-1 Cincinnati team (after a 52-14 road win Saturday at Marshall) dead ahead on a short week for preparation. The Knights and Bearcats meet at 8 p.m. Friday on ESPN.
The eight-week journey through the AAC moves to a new battlefield.
Saturday night also marked a celebration of UCF's first football team in 1979. Sixty members of that squad were introduced at halftime, and the Knights' helmets featured a decal commemorating that 40-year anniversary.
Those original Fighting Knights had to like what they saw from the current UCF version.
And that's because all the sideline camouflage couldn't hide an overwhelming performance by the home troops.