The Huskies will have their work cut out for them this weekend against a No. 22 UCF team that is coming off of their first regular season loss since 2016. The Golden Knights are bound to be angry and out for blood following a crushing one-point loss to a team that they really should have beat at the University of Pittsburgh.
UCF (3-1) put its faith in its defense when it kicked a short field goal to go up by six with just under five minutes left to play. Pittsburgh countered with a 3:37-long, 12-play, 79-yard drive that concluded with a fourth down touchdown pass from the three-yard line. With the extra point, Pittsburgh went up by one point and was able to force a four-and-out on defense to secure the win.
“This will be the best team that we played so far this year,” head coach Randy Edsall said. “We’re going to have to step our game up quite a bit this week, and we have the ability to do that.”
The strength of UCF’s offense is its passing game. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel has a completion percentage of 60.6%, has thrown for 1057 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. Pittsburgh gave him his toughest go of it so far this season, holding him to 25-42 for 338 yards, two scores and two interceptions. Edsall had a lot of praise for this weekend’s opposing signal caller.
“He [Gabriel] makes good decisions, is a good athlete and throws the deep ball very well,” Edsall said. “It looks like the ball is floating right down from a cloud when you study or watch him. He’s very accurate on the deep ball.”
Last season when UConn (1-2) and UCF faced off, then-quarterback McKenzie Milton threw all over the Huskies’ defense. He recorded 346 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. A lot of pressure will be on UConn’s defense to keep them in this game. UCF’s offense has the firepower to put a lot of points on the board fast, so keeping the passing game contained will be crucial.
“We’re going to have to make sure our attention to detail and reactions are good when we go down there,” Edsall said.
Offensively, the Huskies will need to keep the ball away from the Golden Knights’ offense by controlling the ground game and picking up first downs. Kevin Mensah and Art Thompkins are the focal points of this UConn offense, so I would bet on UCF gearing up to stop that. Smart play calling and effective blocking will be Edsall’s rationale.
“We’re not going to devise any supernatural plays that they haven’t seen or anything along those lines,” Edsall said. “It just comes down to blocking, driving people off the ball and backs making the right reads.”
For the Huskies to effectively run the ball, they are going to have to give 100% of their effort and have a positive mindset about their game plan.
“Running the ball, to me, is all will, fundamentals and technique,” Edsall said. “Some plays it might not work out, but then you come back, and you don’t worry about that play and move to the next one.”
Mensah leads the way as the power back with 60 carries for 205 yards and two touchdowns, while Thompkins spells him as a change of pace back with 32 carries for 125 yards and a score as well as nine catches for 51 yards. Getting both guys rolling will be the deciding factor in seeing if the Huskies can move the ball against a very good UCF defense.
UConn and UCF will play in Orlando, Fla. on Saturday. You can watch the game on ESPN 2. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m.
Sean Janos is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @seanjanos.