USF dealt challenge of dealing with UCF’s arsenal

UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel is one of the most effective passers in the country with 26 touchdowns in seven games. He is expected to start Friday, but there is a chance former No. 1 McKenzie Milton, who missed all of the 2019 and most of the 2020 seasons with a knee injury, could make his return against USF. UCF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Last week, USF had its second game canceled due to COVID-19. Since then, the team shifted its focus to the following opponent — the rival up the I-4 corridor, UCF. 

The Bulls (1-7, 0-6) look to reignite the rivalry against the Knights (5-3, 4-3) on Friday in the annual War on I-4, this time at Raymond James Stadium.

UCF rolls into Tampa with one of the best passing offenses in the country. USF will look to stop the Knights’ offense the best it can with a depleted roster.

Sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel currently leads the country in passing yards with 3,017. Along with that, he has also thrown for 26 touchdowns and three interceptions.

USF coach Jeff Scott praised Gabriel for his talent at such an early stage in his college career.

“He’s got a great combination. Number one, he’s got an extremely strong arm, very accurate, he puts the ball exactly where it needs to be. He’s got great awareness, he sees the entire field. And then the other thing you don’t typically have maybe from a guy that throws that well is he’s a great runner… so it’s not a situation where you can just drop everybody back and try to cover… I believe he is one of the top three or four quarterbacks in college football right now,” Scott said.

Gabriel is a true sophomore with a 14-6 record and has thrown for 6,670 yards and 55 touchdowns in 20 games.

His main target is receiver Marlon Williams who is currently second in the country with 1,039 receiving yards. He has also scored 10 times and averages 14.6 yards per catch.

Along with the talent of UCF’s offense, the up-tempo strategy will look to keep USF’s defense on their feet and tired.

“The tempo is so fast, it’s hard to practice. Try to do the best you can. When they get in that rhythm, when they get moving, it’s tough to get stops. So, you just hope you can break their rhythm some way or somehow,” defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said.

USF’s secondary is 42nd in the country in passing yards allowed with 215.8 yards per game. The Bulls’ defense ranks 22nd in the nation with 12 forced turnovers and nine interceptions.

Stopping UCF’s high-octane offense is a feat on its own, but USF will have a tough challenge with a depleted roster. The Bulls’ secondary comes in with only two scholarship players available with Mike Hampton and Daquan Evans. 

USF’s defense not only has to be ready for the talent and effectiveness of Gabriel, but it may have to prepare for McKenzie Milton, who could play in his first game since the 2018 War on I-4 when he suffered a serious knee injury.

Milton threw for 684 yards and five touchdowns in his three games against USF.

The Bulls lead the series 6-5, but UCF has won three straight. Scott naturally wants to break that streak and reignite the rivalry. 

“There’s no doubt our guys understand we got a huge challenge in front of us this week,” Scott said. “You got to love rivalry week. I think rivalries is what makes college football so special.”

The Bulls and the Knights kick off Friday at 3:30. The game will be televised on ESPN and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.