Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. USF Bulls

Dillon Gabriel leads UCF to statement win over Stanford

The true freshman quarterback throws four touchdowns in a 45-27 victory over the Pac-12 Cardinal.
UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel throws a pass against Stanford during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday in Orlando. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]
Published Sep. 14
Updated Sep. 15

ORLANDO — From the crowded quarterback room at UCF, a true freshman emerged to lead the No. 17 Knights against Stanford on Saturday.

Dillon Gabriel, who broke a myriad of high school state passing records in Hawaii, including career passing yards that was previously held by current Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, picked apart the Cardinal defense in just his second start.

The Mililani, Hawaii, native connected on more than 73 percent of his passes, torching the Stanford secondary to the tune of 347 yards and four touchdowns in a 45–27 win in front of 45,008 at Spectrum Stadium.

“It’s a big win for the program,” Knights coach Josh Heupel said after the triumph over a team from a Power Five conference. “People who watch us play understand that we play championship-caliber football each and every week.”

Gabriel struck quickly against the Pac-12 opponent, firing a 28-yard touchdown pass to receiver Marlon Williams after only three minutes in the first quarter.

Then he did it again three minutes later, hitting receiver Tre Nixon on a 38-yard score.

And again, connecting with receiver Gabriel Davis over the top of the Stanford defense for a 38-yard touchdown, Gabriel’s third scoring pass of the quarter.

“He’s obviously got a ton of confidence,” Heupel said of Gabriel. “He’s unflappable.”

RELATED: Want to tune out UCF’s battle cries? Got to beat the Knights first

Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello (3) looks for a receiver as he is pressured by UCF defensive lineman Randy Charlton, left, and defensive lineman Brendon Hayes. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]

Before Saturday’s nonconference matchup, the Knights had started a different quarterback in each of their past four wins, dating to last season.

McKenzie Milton led the offense in the 2018 regular-season finale against USF before going down with a right knee injury. Insert Darriel Mack, who steered the Knights to a win over Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game, but he broke his ankle in July.

Brandon Wimbush, a graduate transfer from Notre Dame, led UCF to a win against Florida A&M to kick off this season, but his position atop the quarterback depth chart was short-lived.

Gabriel started under center in a Week 2 win at Florida Atlantic, but Heupel declined to name a starting quarterback before the matchup against Stanford.

After the Cardinal’s opening drive resulted in a three-and-out, Gabriel’s early performance eliminated any talk of a quarterback competition in Orlando, if only for this week.

UCF (3-0) scored touchdowns on its first four drives. By the end of the first quarter, the Knights offense had put together touchdown drives of 77, 1, 62 and 65 yards to rack up 28 points. Gabriel accounted for 186 passing yards in the first 15 minutes.

“I feel like we just did our job,” Gabriel said. “Everyone believes in each other.”

While UCF seemed to do no wrong, a lifeless Stanford team couldn’t get out of its own way. Even a pregame pep talk from Stanford alumnus Tiger Woods was not enough to spark the Cardinal.

Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello, returning from a concussion that held him out of last week’s loss at Southern California, was intercepted by cornerback Aaron Robinson on his second series of the game. Robinson returned the interception to the Stanford 1, setting up a Greg McCrae touchdown run and a 14-0 lead.

Through its first eight drives, Stanford (1-2) punted six times, threw one interception and scored once, burying the Cardinal in a 38-7 halftime deficit.

Despite Gabriel’s commanding performance over a Power Five team, Heupel was hesitant to name him the starter going forward.

“Regardless of what happens, all I can do is … prepare like I am the guy,” said Gabriel, who, if he remains the starter, faces Pittsburgh on the road next week, the only other Power Five opponent remaining on the Knights’ schedule.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. USF point guard LaQuincy Rideau (3) was named to the coaches preseason All-American Athletic Conference first team on Monday. JONES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Bulls point guard Laquincy Rideau is a first-team pick on the preseason all-conference squad
  2. USF defensive lineman Kelvin Pinkney (96) celebrates the stop against BYU during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Suddenly, bowl eligibility doesn’t seem so far-fetched for the Bulls.
  3. BYU quarterback Baylor Romney (16) is stopped on fourth down by the USF defense during the second half Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Journal: The school also announces $2.5 million in athletic department donations, a good chunk of which will go toward an indoor practice facility.
  4. The Bulls come back from a 13-point deficit to win 27-23.
  5. USF running back Jordan Cronkrite (2) dives over BYU defensive back Tavita Gagnier (34) for the first down during the second half of the game at Raymond James Stadium. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Martin Fennelly: The senior running back has his second straight big game to help lift the Bulls.
  6. USF tight end Mitchell Wilcox (89) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against BYU during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The Bulls come back from a 13-point deficit to win 27-23.
  7. Florida Gators defensive back CJ Henderson (1) wags his finger after breaking up a pass intended for Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Jeff Thomas during the season opener. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Matt Baker: A running back duel at Clemson and why Jordan Cronkrite could be in for another big day for USF. Plus, Tampa Bay Times staff picks for week 7.
  8. BYU redshirt freshman Jaren Hall will become the first African-American to start a game at quarterback for the Cougars when they face USF on Saturday. JAREN WILKEY  |  BYU
    The freshman will become the first African-American to start a game at QB for the Cougars
  9. USF senior tight end Mitch Wilcox has 10 receptions (three of them for touchdowns) through five games. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The NFL draft prospect is coming off arguably his best game as a run blocker.
  10. USF defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary (center) said he doesn't expect BYU to modify its offense for new Cougars starting quarterback Jaren Hall. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times] OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Bell said the Bulls offensive line had its best day of the season at UConn
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement