UCF freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel marked his first career start as he led the UCF Knights to defeat the Florida Atlantic Owls 48-14 in their first road game of the season at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida.
The 6-foot quarterback highlighted his night in the pocket at the start of the second half when he found UCF senior running back Adrian Killins Jr. – who weaved and juked past a pack Owls’ defenders – for a 74-yard touchdown.
Gabriel went on to finish his first career start going 7 of 19 on 245 yards, with three touchdown passes and 19 yards on the ground.
With the win over FAU on Saturday night, the Knights improved to 2-0 on the season while the Owls fell to 0-2.
The Knights’ rankings rose in the national polls on Sunday, ranking No. 16 in the Amway Coaches Poll and No. 17 in The AP Top 25 Poll. UCF was ranked No. 17 in the Amway Coaches Poll and No. 18 in The AP Top 25 Poll in week two.
Gabriel’s start came as a surprise as Brandon Wimbush – the redshirt senior Notre Dame transfer who opened for the Knights in week one – was expected continue on with the role going into week two.
Heupel said Gabriel learned that he would receive his first career start Thursday evening. The true freshman appeared far more seasoned under center than one might expect from a true freshman under the bright lights.
“It felt great. Coming out, nothing really changed. It was just getting a snap, getting the first snap,” Gabriel said during the post-game press conference. “So, I didn’t really take it to heart, just came out there and tried to be the best team I could.”
Although the details to what specifically sidelined Wimbush aren’t known, UCF head coach Josh Huepel said that Wimbush “just wasn’t 100%,” but that he could have played in the game if he absolutely needed to.
FAU head coach Lane Kiffin said UCF played well but what FAU needed to do differently was eliminate negative plays.
“If you play bad early against these guys, you know they do it a lot, they blow you out,” Kiffin said in a post-game press conference. “The game is going to go really fast, and the game is going get lopsided like it did.”
Despite leading the lopsided affair against the Owls, Gabriel was more reflective than celebrative about his performance during the post-game press conference.
“I didn’t feel it was my best,” Gabriel said. “I had to adjust early and I didn’t adjust as quick as I’d like, but the main thing is we went 1-0 and that’s all that matters.”
In the end, nothing shy of Mother Nature could stop the Knights’ ground attack as lightning forced both teams to conclude the game late in the fourth quarter.
The UCF running back corps amassed 312 rushing yards with junior Greg McCrae finishing with a team-leading 93 yards of his own.
Meanwhile, the FAU offense could only sputter its way forward, finishing the night with 314 yards of total offense – 137 yards on the ground, and 177 yards through the air – compared to the Knights’ 574 yards.
Moving forward, the Knights will have a few days to prepare for perhaps the biggest challenge of the season: Stanford. The Knights will face the Pacific 12 Conference opponent on Sept. 14 at 3:30 p.m. at home.
Heupel said no specific quarterback has been chosen for the game at home against Stanford next week. Gabriel said if he is tapped again, he is confident he can rise to the occasion.
“I’m just going to be the best team I can,” Gabriel said. “And if my name is called, I’ll be ready.”