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UCF faces first real test of season vs. Stanford

But who will start at quarterback Saturday for the No. 17 Knights?
UCF quarterback Brandon Wimbush runs the ball against Florida A&M on Aug. 29, 2019 in Orlando. [GARY MCCULLOUGH | AP]
Published Sep. 14
Updated Sep. 14

ORLANDO — It doesn’t seem to matter who is running UCF’s offense. The 17th-ranked Knights score points in bunches and keep winning.

Three different quarterbacks have started games since two-time American Athletic Conference offensive player of the year McKenzie Milton was lost to a serious knee/leg injury late last season against USF. But one of the nation’s top offenses hasn’t skipped a beat.

Whether it is true freshman Dillon Gabriel, Notre Dame senior transfer Brandon Wimbush or Milton’s backup from a year ago, Darriel Mack, directing the attack, the Knights function well.

Stanford is the next team to take a crack at slowing down the defending AAC champions, who haven’t announced which quarterback will take the first snap against the Cardinal on Saturday.

“We have to prepare more for their scheme than who is playing quarterback,” Stanford coach David Shaw said.

“They’re very fast, very confident. They know what they’re doing and are very aggressive,” Shaw added. “They’re snapping the ball fast and we need to try and keep up. We have to communicate quickly. That’s the fastest tempo team we’ve played in several years.”

With Wimbush sidelined by an undisclosed injury and Mack on the mend from a broken ankle, Gabriel threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns to pace a 48-14 rout of Florida Atlantic last week.

UCF coach Josh Heupel said Wimbush might be ready to play against Stanford. He also didn’t rule out the possibility of Mack, who’s cleared to practicing again, seeing some action against the Cardinal, too.

Wimbush started and played well in a season-opening 62-0 victory over Florida A&M. Mack replaced Milton during UCF’s regular-season finale a year ago, then led the Knights to a victory in the AAC championship game the following week.

“I think he’s extremely comfortable with what we’re doing,” Heupel said of Mack, adding “he’s in really good shape” and throwing to receivers for a while.

Not that Gabriel has done anything to put himself back on the bench. It’s just nice to have options.

The freshman, who played at the same high school in Hawaii as Milton, has thrown for 372 yards and five TDs in two games.

HIGH STAKES

This loomed as a matchup of Top 25 teams hoping to climb higher in the rankings until Stanford stumbled 45-20 at Southern California last week. It’s still a big game for UCF, which for the third straight season is hoping to force its way into the national discussion about who is worthy of consideration for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Knights haven’t lost a regular-season game the past two years, but this figures to be as tough a test as any UCF has faced during the run.

“I think we’re pretty consistent the way we approach every week,” said Heupel, adding the Knights haven’t prepared any differently for Stanford than they do any opponent. “Our players understand this is a big game.”

COSTELLO RETURNS

Quarterback K.J. Costello is back for Stanford after sitting out last week with a head injury suffered during the Cardinal’s season-opening win over Northwestern In his absence, Davis Mills made his first career start against USC.

“Costello will get you fired up. He’s an established leader and player,” tight end Colby Parkinson said. “It’s nice to get a captain back to play.”

DEFENSE SHINES

UCF has scored at least 30 points in 28 consecutive games, the longest streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision since 1936. In outscoring their first two opponents — Florida A&M and Florida Atlantic — 110-14, one aspect of the team’s success that’s been overshadowed is the defense, which had five sacks and 16 tackles for loss last week. The Knights forced at least one turnover in a nation’s-best 32 straight games before the streak ended last week.

HOME AND HOME

Stanford won the only previous meeting between the teams 31-7 at home in 2015. The game Saturday completes a home-and-home agreement.

“They’re bigger, faster, stronger than the team we played a few years ago,” Shaw said. “They’ve done a lot, won a lot. They play the game fast and they play the game well.”

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