5 Things to Know: UCF at Houston

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Complementary football.
UCF coach Josh Heupel talks about it all the time, and it can be an elusive goal.
In a perfect world for the Knights, here's an equation that would be fun to see:
--600 yards of total offense
--400 passing yards
--50 points
--350 yards by the opposing team
--Three touchdowns or fewer by the other squad
--10 tackles for loss and four sacks
--No turnovers by UCF, but multiple turnovers by the opponent
--Perfection on field goals and PATs, a 50-yard punting average and excellence on odds and ends like onside kicks (UCF found out how important that was against Tulane.)
There's no absolute guarantee all those things combined would equal a victory, but Heupel and his squad probably would take their chances on it.
The question then becomes, how close to those sorts of optimistic numbers can the Knights come on any given Saturday?
In Heupel parlance, that's how you go 1-0.
So, here are some things that will be in play Saturday afternoon (2 p.m. ET on ESPN+) when UCF (3-2 overall, 2-2 AAC play) travels to Houston (2-1, 2-0) in search of a second consecutive league victory in advance of a week off (no game slated for Nov. 7):

  1. How about that run game? The Knights ran the ball 59 times last Saturday against Tulane, for a season-high 267 rushing yards against a Tulane defense that had ranked 25th nationally (and second in the AAC). Now the challenge steps up another notch, as UCF goes up against the league's top-rated rushing defense. Houston ranks 18th nationally at 104.7 per game—and that's after permitting only 166 rushing yards (and one ground TD) last Saturday in handing a Navy team--that makes its living by running the football—its first conference defeat (The Midshipmen have three league wins, something no one else in the AAC can say.). UCF's run game rates 22nd in the country.


  1. Gabriel is spoiling Knight fans. Coaches and players alike talked about the expected jump UCF sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel would make from his rookie campaign to now. But it may be hard to find anyone that would have perfectly predicted the sorts of numbers Gabriel has produced to date in 2020. He leads the nation in passing yards and passing TDs. His TD pass-to-INT ratio is 19-2. He has thrown 133 straight passes without an interception. And his five-game numbers have prompted statistical comparisons with everyone from Patrick Mahomes to Jared Goff to Joe Burrow. He has made 400-yard passing days appear routine—and yet he seems to take it all in stride, as if that's the way it's supposed to work. So far, he has given UCF fans little to argue about.


  1. In case you missed these. UCF fans probably wondered exactly what the wide receiver production would look like in 2020 following the graduation of Gabriel Davis, who is now playing a significant role with the Buffalo Bills. That question became even more pronounced with veteran returnee Tre Nixon missing the last four games since scoring a first-half TD at Georgia Tech. In their stead, Marlon Williams and Jaylon Robinson—with plenty of help from others—have been outstanding. Williams remains number one in the country in receiving yards per game (150.6) and stands fourth in catches per game (10.8). Robinson is at 120.4 (eighth nationally) and 6.4 per game, respectively. Williams in five games in 2020 has never caught fewer than nine passes, while Robinson has four contests with 100-plus yards, including one game with nine grabs and another with 10.


  1. Can you be more consistent than this? UCF in its five games in 2020 has scored 49 points once, 50 points once and 51 points twice. All that to date equals a 45.2-point scoring average that ranks fifth this week in the NCAA stats (Ohio State is number one at 52.0 after playing its first game). That's just off the 2017 UCF team's record of 48.2 per game—an average that included seven games of scoring at least 49 points.


  1. The Knights' defense will be tested—and what else is new in the AAC? UCF Saturday afternoon will face another talented quarterback in Clayton Tune, who currently is second behind Dillon Gabriel in the AAC in passing efficiency and also stands 11th nationally in both total offense yards per game and passing yards per game. Tune has thrown for at least 300 yards in four straight outings—and the last Cougar quarterback to do that was Case Keenum nine seasons ago. Tune a year ago at the Bounce House threw for 179 yards against the Knights.