Replay: UCF Roars Past Georgia Tech

Face it, UCF football fans, it's been a complicated summer, to say the least.

You had no idea what sort of havoc COVID-19 was going to wreak on the 2020 season.

For a long time, you had no sense of what the Knights and their American Athletic Conference brethren were going to do as far as playing games.

You watched as the Knights lost three of their scheduled home contests.

You gulped as other teams in the opening weeks saw their games postponed or cancelled due to the virus.

You saw the reality of how a positive test or two can flip the script.

Even as game day loomed, you wondered if it was really going to happen Saturday afternoon in Atlanta.

But, then, the Knights did what they always do.

They delivered a heaping portion of comfort food onto your plate:

--A heavy dose of Dillon Gabriel and his improved-as-promised focus.
--The usual corps of receivers and backs who made plays all over the field.
--A defense that forced five turnovers and blocked a field goal and generally dulled the enthusiasm in Atlanta that had risen from Georgia Tech's opening win in Tallahassee versus Florida State.

The 49-21 victory—against UCF's only out-of-conference opponent for 2020--looked eerily similar to what the Knights do on most Saturdays.

The points, the yards, the fast-paced possessions.

In the end, they just sort of overwhelmed the Yellow Jackets on a cloudy 69-degree day.

And, that was truly comforting to anyone with any sort of UCF allegiance.


Truth be told, it was Georgia Tech that started the contest as if it might be on the right side of a 49-21 score:

--The Yellow Jackets ran the opening kickoff back 75 yards and scored in three plays.
--UCF responded with a 75-play touchdown drive of its own.
--Then Tech drove 67 yards to the UCF nine before Knight freshman Josh Celiscar stripped quarterback Jeff Sims and recovered—and the visiting team fans could exhale.
--Then Tech drove to the UCF 10 before Noah Hancock blocked a Yellow Jacket field-goal attempt on the fourth play of the second period.

Part of that start came because the home team started the game in a completely different defense than Josh Heupel and his squad had seen or prepared for.

A potential 17-7 deficit averted (after Sims completed his first six passes on the way to 150 first-period yards for Tech), the Knights went to work. Kudos to Heupel, his staff and players for crafting a new game plan from scratch on the fly.

Gabriel played superbly in the second quarter, at one point completing 10 straight passes for 182 yards.

The Knights compiled 273 total yards in that second period alone (197 by Gabriel's accuracy) on their way to 357 by intermission.

Three straight Tech drives produced a combined 58 yards and ended in consecutive punts and a Celiscar interception. That was all the opening required for UCF.

That second period showcased Knight TD drives of 80, 90 and 35 yards –and another one of 55 reached the Tech 23 before a lost UCF fumble.

The scoreless third period could only qualify as bizarre. After the Knights couldn't covert a fourth down from the Georgia Tech 29, things went haywire:
--The Jackets fumbled on first down (Richie Grant recovered).
--On the next play, Tech hit Gabriel's arm as he threw and the pass was intercepted.
--Three plays later, UCF's Anthony Montalvo thought he had scored on a fumble recovery in the end zone, only to have the official review of Randy Charlton's pressure rule it an incompletion.

The UCF defense held the home team to a paltry 58 yards in that third period. The visitors did not score on any of their five third-period opportunities.

Tech's most impressive possession of the second half featured 56 yards and a TD with 13:12 remaining in the game. But that one-score deficit hardly fazed the visitors.

Gabriel regained his touch and led his mates to three consecutive seven-point-producing possessions of 75, 63 and 20 yards (that last one after a Stephon Zayas interception).

The sophomore lefthander played a major role in the Knights' gaudy 10-for-16 third-down conversion rate.

The game ended with UCF again threatening at the Georgia Tech 10.


Six months of pent-up passion erupted in an emotional UCF locker room for a coaching staff and team that for a while had also wondered if this day would come.

In the end it proved refreshingly familiar:

--Gabriel with a career-high 417 passing yards and a career-high-tying four TD passes.
--Veteran Tre Nixon with a pair of first-half scoring receptions, then newcomer Jaylon "Flash" Robinson with six first-half grabs for 105 yards.
--Senior Marlon Williams with five catches for 95 in the final period alone (he finished with 10 grabs for 154 yards and two TDs).

"He's a big-time player and he made some big-time plays tonight. Hat's off to him," said Tech coach Geoff Collins.

--The undervalued UCF ground game working its way for 243 rushing yards (led by Otis Anderson's 88) and three scores via the run.
--An opportunistic defense that forced at least one Tech turnover in every period.

Only once in Tech history have the Jackets allowed more total yards in a game and that came versus eventual national champion Notre Dame in 1977.

"The second you misfit something, the second you lose a step in coverage, they're explosive, they're dynamic, they can make big-time plays," said Collins.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution described the UCF offense as "over-caffeinated." Columnist Steve Hummer added, "The Knights scarcely take a breath between plays, let alone fool with the old social custom of a huddle. . . . The (UCF) offense needs more possessions like cable TV needs another channel."

Heck, the Knights even won the time-of-possession contest, holding the ball for 31:52. Only once all last season were they beyond 28:49 in that column.

They did what they almost always do—score at least one rushing and one passing TD for the 40th straight game and put at least 30 points on the board for the 38th time in 39 contests.

It marked a fourth straight year with at least one triumph over a Power 6 opponent (Maryland and Auburn in 2017, Pitt in 2018, Stanford in 2019).

So, UCF fans, take heart.

For one Saturday, that was exactly what you needed.

Heupel and his team absolutely agreed.