The UCF Knights have lost two games before the first Saturday of October. That is headline news. The Knights are part of a situation which can’t be neatly summarized in one column.
Let’s deal with the big picture later, in a separate piece For now, let’s focus on the Knights’ short-term reality, which is that they have no more margin for error and that they are no longer the favorite to win their own division, let alone the American Athletic Conference.
How did the Knights get here?
There are plenty of obvious and accurate answers, but they can be summarized in a simple sentence: Their biggest lapses and worst plays are coming at the wrong time.
No sport involves perfection, or even near-perfection. Great baseball hitters make an out two-thirds of the time. The best basketball shooters make less than half of their 3-point shots. Legendary quarterbacks will fail to complete 30 percent of their passes if not more.
It is slightly (maybe even moderately) overstated that athletes and teams have to be great under pressure. An underrated and more accurate truth about athletes and competition is that pressure doesn’t require greatness on a relentless, unceasing basis. The athlete who can merely avoid melting down under stress – who makes the basic, routine plays in pressure situations – often does more than enough to win.
Spectacular plays made under pressure will obviously win admiration from everyone in the room. If the game is big enough, they become written about and remembered for generations.
Yet, most games – even the big ones – involve situations in which the simpler ability to make the expected play is sufficient to achieve victory.
UCF did this in its run of two straight unbeaten seasons.
It has ceased to do this in its pair of losses in the Rust Belt, first to Pittsburgh and now to Cincinnati.
The worst and most irritating aspect of the Pittsburgh loss was that UCF became sloppy after grabbing a 31-21 lead. The Knights committed multiple personal-foul penalties on Pitt’s TD drive which sliced UCF’s 10-point lead down to three at 31-28. Later, UCF’s offside penalty on 4th and 5 prolonged Pitt’s winning touchdown drive.
UCF carried the run of play in the final three quarters, but horrendous timing on mistakes pierced the Knights’ armor.
It was much the same in Cincinnati on Friday.
The UCF defense played well enough to win. Cincinnati’s offense scored a modest 20 points, and even then, one of UC’s drives began at the Knights’ 19-yard line. In truth, UCF’s defense was responsible for only 13 points. It did as much as it could have hoped for.
A year ago, UCF bottled up Cincy’s offense. It did the same this season.
Last year, UCF blew out the Bearcats because the offense got out of its own way and made basic plays. This year, with the defense playing equally well against Cincinnati, the offense scored a touchdown on only one of six red-zone possessions. It didn’t score any points on multiple red-zone possessions. Field goals on those two scoreless trips could have made a huge difference.
This game was more than the red zone, however.
UCF was haunted and hounded by the reality that when Dillon Gabriel made a good throw, his receivers didn’t catch it. When the receiver got open down the field, Gabriel often failed to make a good or timely throw. On a lot of other plays, the UCF offensive line got demolished by Cincy’s excellent front seven.
In a sport where 11 men need to operate in concert with each other, UCF couldn’t get its offensive unit to function well together. Everyone fell short often enough to override the fact that some players did their jobs on individual plays. When certain players did their jobs, teammates did not… which ruined the end result.
UCF has wasted good-to-great defensive performances this season. It used to be that UCF giving up fewer than 30 points (in the Pitt loss, the Panthers scored 35, but a blocked punt accounted for seven of those points, meaning the UCF defense allowed only 28) was an automatic win.
Twice this year, UCF’s defense has allowed fewer than 30 points, and the Knights have still lost.
Are the injuries at quarterback a factor UCF could not control? Sure.
Yet, the litany of mistakes, the collection of red-zone failures, and the inability of passers and receivers to both do their jobs on the same play all wrecked the Knights.
This is their short-term reality. The bigger picture can be addressed another day.
UCF WR Gabe Davis will turn pro
Next year’s UCF offense took a big hit Wednesday , but in the long run, the player leaving may help the program with more publicity at the next level.
Star wide receiver Gabriel Davis has decided to forgo his senior season and enter the upcoming NFL draft.
— Gabriel Davis (@DavisGB1) December 4, 2019
Davis is a true “Florida Boy” growing up in Sanford, and playingl ball at Seminole High school. He has been dominant in his time at UCF, has become one of the best wideouts in the state, arguably the best in his conference and one of the more underrated players in the country.
His numbers have improved each season. As a freshman, he had 27 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns. As a sophomore, he had 53 catches for 815 yards and seven touchdowns. Then, this season Davis had 72 catches for 1,241 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Last season Davis finished on the American All-conference second team. This year, however, he finds himself on the first team and will hope the accolades don’t stop there.
Davis has all of the prototypical traits to be an “X” receiver in the NFL. He has the size at 6’3, but could work on his frame, getting up his listed weight at 212 pounds. In the passing league that is the NFL, teams are always looking for someone with big play ability. Davis is just that, averaging 16 yards a catch for his career.
He has the ability to take the top of a defense with his size and speed, which will intrigue scouts. One area of his game he will likely work on in the offseason will be running after the catch.
We all know his ability to kill you downfield, but scouts will also want to see what he can do catching a short pass. With an absolutely stacked class at the position, it will be interesting to see where Davis goes when the draft rolls around.
Already underrated being from an AAC school expect that to continue during draft time, but also expect him to rise to the occasion.
UCF blows out USF- is it the end for Charlie Strong?
It wasn’t an unexpected result, as UCF won for the third straight time in the rivalry matchup with USF, 34 – 7 Friday night in Orlando. The bigger question is: was it the end for third-year Bulls coach Charlie Strong?
First to the game. The Knights got what they needed in the first half, as freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel led them on three scoring drives to build a 21 – 0 lead from which USF never recovered. Gabriel threw two touchdown passes to his favorite target this season, receiver Gabe Davis (above), and the lead grew to 24 – 0 at the half.
The same pattern continued with USF’s offense as has been the case for much of this season. The Bulls mounted a little to nothing offensively throughout the game until finally breaking through, when running back Johnny Ford scored on a fourth-and-goal late in the third quarter. That trimmed the lead to 24 – 7.
However, Backup QB Darriel Mack led the next Knights answer going 82 yards in 8 plays with Mack carrying two yards for UCF’s final TD of the evening and all but, putting the game away.
The win was UCF’s ninth on the season and they await to find out what bowl game the American Conference will slot them in. This is the first time in three years that the Knights have not played in the championship game of the American Conference. They won the previous two defeating the Memphis Tigers both times and ended up playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game each time, as well.
That included their loss in the Fiesta Bowl to LSU a year ago, which stopped their 25 game win streak.
Back to the Bulls, the loss was their fourth straight to end the year and Strong’s team limped to the finish line at 4 – 8. When you combine this season with losing the remaining six games a year ago, that’s 14 losses in the last 18 games played for Strong’s teams. Friday night was also the fifth loss by 27 points or more for USF this season.
So now, we all wait to see if USF Athletic Director Michael Kelly, who was hired last year, will get rid of the former Texas and Louisville coach or give him one final shot to turn it around in 2020?
Strong is reportedly owed at least $5 million for the remaining two years on his five-year deal that he agreed to in December of 2016.