UCF Starts Fast, Roars by Stanford

Ken Cross

September 14, 2019 at 7:42 pm.

ORLANDO — “Gentlemen, start your engines.”

Oh, wait a minute, those are the words for starting NASCAR, something that may or may not be considered a sport, depending who you talk to.

That phrase may be more appropriate for the speed and depth on the UCF Knights wide receiving corps – a group who ran over, around, under, and through the Stanford Cardinal in a 45-27 Knights win at Spectrum Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Early in the game, freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel had little trouble finding members of that group jetting by Stanford’s defensive backs as the UCF quarterback completed 22 of 30 passes for 347 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those TD passes went to Marlon Williams, Tre Nixon and Gabriel Davis on the first four drives which were all touchdowns as UCF took a 28-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.

“I put in a lot of work during the summer and I was just waiting for my turn,” said Williams who caught three balls for 73 yards. “When the ball came my way, I knew I was going to catch it.”

The overall speed of UCF too intense for Stanford’s defense, especially starting corners Paulson Adebo and Obi Eboh. Strong safety Kendall Williamson even had problems when UCF created mismatches with him.

Gabriel had much more poise and confidence in the pocket on Saturday than he did in his first start last week and it showed with his gaudy numbers. UCF head coach Josh Heupel stopped short of naming Gabriel as the starting quarterback, although the coach noted that his preparation made him the choice over Brandon Wimbush for the matchup with Stanford.

“The things that guys inside the program like have been sent and he has grown with more knowledge and understanding in what we do offensively,” said Heupel. “You see the confidence from him and it shows throughout the program.”

Heupel explained that he put his quarterback in bad positions last week, which led to him completing only 7 of 19 passes, although there were some down and distance issues that dictated how the coaches could call the offense. On Saturday, the Knights struck early as he (Gabriel) threw some perfect deep balls into his receivers’ arms. Those first four scoring drives all took 1;53 or less.

Gabriel’s maturity was seen in how he put things he could correct on the front burner after his first start last week where he led the Knights to a 48-14 win over the Florida Atlantic Owls. Two things he emphasized were his footwork when he set up to pass and then not taking losses in yardage.

“He’s doing a great job being a young guy,” Williams said. “He comes in every day trying to get better. He is a great worker. He threw some pretty balls out there.”

Gabriel made the work for his speedy wideout corps easy as he literally dropped balls in their laps for big plays. The Knights’ depth and speed at wideout is as strong as any in college football as they rival any unit, even the deep wideout rosters in the SEC.

“I think it speaks for how much talent we have around the ball,” Gabriel said. “I wouldn’t want to be a defense around us because you wouldn’t know who to cover. Everybody is capable of making plays.”

When Stanford was using one deep safety and matching up man-to-man with Williams, Nixon and Davis, Gabriel licked his chops and found that trio for 12 combined passes for 224 of the Knights’ 347 yards. It was a TKO just 6:39 into the first quarter when Gabriel found Nixon on a 38-yard touchdown catch for a 21-0 UCF advantage.

“I think we have the best receiving corps in the country,” said Williams, who averaged 24.3 yards per catch. “The young guys that are coming up are good too and you are going to see it in the future.”