The No. 17 UCF Knights stunned the visiting Stanford Cardinal Saturday with a cocktail of speed, confidence and humidity before an embattled crowd of just over 45,000 individuals at Spectrum Stadium.
The Knights took to the air early, seized a lead and never looked back – extending their home game winning streak to 17 games and ending the night with a final score of 45-27.
“Defensively, we squashed everything early and played really smart football with our eyes in the right place,” UCF head coach Josh Heupel said after the game. “… Offensively, we were able to get things going and play really well early.”
Heupel said defeating a Power Five school is an accomplishmentand a big win for the program but said the team will get right back to work and focused on the next matchup.
Heupel said he’s seen true freshman quarterback Dillion Gabriel’s confidence grow in the first three games this season and said he has become more knowledgeable and comfortable.
Despite having 15 more completions against Stanford than he did during the game against the Florida Atlantic Owls, Heupel said Gabriel is unflappable and will be a topic of discussion regarding the starting quarterback job.
Heupel said in the postgame conference that it is too early to determine if there is an official starting quarterback, but the topic is something the staff is going to evaluate over the weekend.
Gabriel – a left-handed true freshman with the confidence and poise of an upperclassmen – was nothing shy of the starter position and deserving of the full-time gig.
“We stayed together as a unit. Everyone believed in each other, and it worked out,” Gabriel said after the game. “I wouldn’t want to be a defense against us because I wouldn’t know who to cover. Every guy is capable of making plays,
Out of the gate, Gabriel led the Knights down the field and later connected with junior wide receiver Marlon Williams for a 28-yard touchdown pass. The Knights have now found the end zone on their opening offensive drive for their third game in a row.
Gabriel concluded his second career start going 22 of 30 passing for 347 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers. His numbers come with notable help from the offensive line, who gave up no sacks to a well-sized Stanford defensive line.
The Knights shifted their attack from the air to the ground going into the second half.
Spearheaded by junior running back Greg McCrae – who closed out the game with 109 rushing yards, 1 touchdown and a breakout run for 73 yards — the Knights’ running back corps found green lights through to the final whistle. McCrae’s 73-yard marked the longest rush for the Knights this season.
UCF senior running back Adrian Killins Jr. finished the night with 94 all-purpose yards, which promotes him as the seventh all-time leader at UCF with 3,717 all-purpose yards, according to Saturday’s postgame notes.
The one-sided affair continued on the other side of the ball for UCF, which held the Cardinal’s offense to just 116 rushing yards and 233 passing yards.
The Knights’ defense earned a one take-away in the first quarter by redshirt junior Aaron Robinson – his first recorded interception which he returned for 40 yards to the Stanford 1-yard line.
The Stanford leaders were freshman running back Austin Jones and senior quarterback K.J. Costello.
Jones finished the night with seven carries for 65 yards and a touchdown, while Costello – who shared snaps with junior quarterback Davis Mills – finished 21 of 44 for 199 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
With the victory, the No. 17 UCF Knights improve to 3-0 on the season – not yet facing an American Athletic Conference opponent – while the Stanford Cardinal fall 1-2, and 0-1 in the Pacific-12 Conference.
In the second year with Heupel as head coach, the Knights went undefeated in the regular season and 15-1 overall, with the one loss coming from the LSU defeat at the 2019 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.
UCF will prepare to hit the road to face the Pittsburgh Panthers on Sept. 21 at 3:30 p.m. at Heinz Stadium in Pittsburgh.