ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN SPORTS) – UCF had a rollercoaster season in 2018. With losing star quarterback Mckenzie Milton to a scary injury and losing in the Fiesta Bowl to LSU, the Knights yearn to bounce back and redeem themselves this year.
With losing backup quarterback Darell Mack Jr. to a season-ending injury, UCF Knights began their season with a quarterback competition between Notre Dame graduate transfer Brandon Wimbush, redshirt freshman Quadry Jones, and incoming freshman Dillion Gabriel. The competition ended with Coach Josh Heupel naming Dillion Gabriel to start.
In the past three games, UCF blew out Florida A&M University, Florida Atlantic University, and Stanford; and they were getting national recognition. Different analysts, including Joey Galloway, Jonathan Vilma, and others, have claimed that they don’t see the Knights making it to the College Football Playoff this year. So with a chip on their shoulders, UCF headed into this game against Pittsburgh Panthers with both momentum and a “mamba mentality.”
The Pittsburgh Panthers destroyed UCF on both sides of the ball in the first half. Running back A.J. Davis scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown on the goal line which gave his team the lead with a 7-0 score. UCF’s quarterback Dillion Gabriel struggled to move the offense and threw an interception to Pitt linebacker Phill Campbell, which gave the Panthers an extra boost. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett then threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Maurice French leading the score of 14-0.
UCF seemed determined to not give up, and running back Adrian Killins gave the team some life by rushing for a touchdown, shrinking Pitt’s lead by seven points.
In the second half, UCF came out strong and more focused as running back Otis Anderson made an incredible play by scoring on a huge punt return. Dillion Gabriel emerged resurgent, throwing two touchdown passes to wide receiver Gabe Davis, giving UCF the lead with a 31-21 score.
The Panthers, who weren’t going to let the Knights win in their home stadium, came back with a passing touchdown of their own with backup quarterback Nick Patti, cutting the lead by three points.
The fourth quarter became a “David and Goliath” battle between the teams. With Dillion Gabriel being nervous and Pitt kicker Alex Kissman missing a chance to tie the score, this game was up for grabs.
Gabriel came up huge by throwing a “dime” pass to receiver Tre Nixon for a huge first down. On 4th and 2, UCF decided to run the ball, but was quickly met by Pitt’s D-line.
Late in the fourth, Pitt’s offense failed to capitalize on a good possession that would’ve put them ahead of UCF.
On UCF’s turn, Gabriel threw a pass again to Tre Nixon on a 3rd and short, which converted into a huge first down. After reviewing the play, the refs came up with the solution that the receiver has been stopped short of the first down. By way of a field goal, UCF increased the lead with a score of 34-28.
The Panthers retaliated with a play now called the “Pitt Special” that not only gave them the lead, but also caused them to win the game.
UCF’s defeat caused a major shockwave throughout college football.
What can UCF do to bounce back? UCF has to be more focused and more aggressive on the offensive side. Gabriel needs to be more comfortable in the pocket, trust his receivers, and make smart decisions.
On the other hand, the defense needs to maintain its aggression. Both the corners and safeties must make some plays and create an immediate impact.
Like the old saying goes, “never underestimate.”
Jonathan Anderson is a Florida National News sports contributor. | firstname.lastname@example.org