UCF - Cincinnati: Five Things to Watch

Watch Listen Live Stats

UCF had won consecutive road games in opponent stadiums at Maryland, Cincinnati, Navy, SMU, Temple (those five in 2017), UConn, Memphis, East Carolina, South Florida (those four in 2018) and Florida Atlantic (in 2019). Ten times in a row the Knights had been savvy enough to navigate whatever landmines those foes planted.
That streak ended two Saturdays ago in Pittsburgh when the Panthers pulled out a late 35-34 victory on a fourth-down goal-line pass with about a minute to go. That marked the only time in UCF history a ranked Knights' team has dropped a true road game in an opponent facility.
So, consider the Knights warned to the tricks of the trade.
This week UCF will walk into a Bearcat #NippAtNight "black-out" in Cincinnati and who knows what other hijinks--as Josh Heupel's crew attempts to start another road streak and make it 20 straight victories over American Athletic Conference opponents.
Here are some areas to watch when the 18th-rated Knights (4-1 overall, 1-0 AAC) meet Cincinnati (3-1 overall, 0-0 AAC) in front of a Friday prime-time audience on ESPN:

  1. Can anyone slow down the Knights? It's hardly a new identity, but UCF again in 2019 has proven itself to be one of the most productive offenses in the country. The Knights have scored at least 30 points in 31 consecutive games (the best streak in the nation since 1936). They are doing it with an unsung offensive line, a true freshman at quarterback (Dillon Gabriel, who ranks sixth nationally in passing efficiency and seventh in TD passes with 14), a junior wide receiver (Gabriel Davis) who already has hauled in eight TD passes, plus a run game that shows the top four UCF ground-gainers all averaging at least 6.2 yards per carry. Any game preview begins with the question of whether the Knights can keep up that pace—and whether the opposition can find ways to slow them down.      
  2. Will time of possession mean anything? Cincinnati this week stands ninth nationally in time of possession (34:16 per game), maybe the most noteworthy Bearcat NCAA stat ranking. Meanwhile, UCF is far at the other end of that chart, with its fast-scoring attack standing only 122nd in that category at 26:18. But it remains to be seen if those possession time differentials translate into anything tangible, including this week with UCF ranking second nationally in total offense (568.6 yards per game) and sixth in scoring (49 points per game). Heupel's offense will be facing off against a Bearcat defense allowing only 20.8 points and 297.3 total yards per game. This game might depend on who makes fewer mistakes—with these two teams both rating low on the NCAA penalty yards chart (Cincinnati 127th at 82.75 per game and UCF 113th at 71.2).
  3. The skinny on Cincinnati. The Bearcats like the idea that in their two home wins in 2019 (and also throwing out the loss at powerful Ohio State) they've permitted only 27 combined points and 425 total yards, with opposing quarterbacks completing only 40 percent of their passes. Then last weekend at Marshall, Cincinnati forced six three-and-outs and eight punts on the first nine possessions for the Herd—with Marshall held scoreless in the first three periods as the Bearcats built a 42-0 lead. 
  4. A little history for Knights fans. This quickly has become one of the more intriguing rivalries of East Division rivals in the American Athletic Conference, even based on only four previous meetings (each of the last four seasons). In its two previous visits to Nippert Stadium (40,000 capacity), UCF in 2015 lost 52-7 (during its 0-12 season) and then two years ago came away with a 51-23 triumph in week four of the Knights' 13-0 campaign.
  5. What motivation do these two teams have? The Knights presumably learned at least a little bit about the hazards of life on the road two weeks back when Pitt threw everything but the kitchen sink at UCF and came away with a one-point win. The Panthers even printed postgame T-shirts to celebrate the end of UCF's long regular-season unbeaten streak. If the Knights didn't already understand, they came to appreciate the attention they gained with that 27-game win streak and overall recent notoriety. The Bearcats, meanwhile, likely haven't forgotten their trip to Orlando a year ago. With the ESPN GameDay road show in town, UCF created all sorts of buzz in prime time at sold-out Spectrum Stadium. The Knights built a 35-6 lead (behind three TD passes and 268 passing yards from McKenzie Milton) in a 38-13 triumph that pushed UCF to 10-0 and handed the Bearcats their final defeat in an eventual 11-win season for Cincinnati.