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“UCF Football Aims to Defeat Ex-QB Dillon Gabriel and Shock No. 6 Oklahoma: 3 Key Things to Look Out For”

UCF starts the second half of its inaugural Big 12 season Saturday with its biggest test and an anticipated reunion with its former starting quarterback. The Knights (3-3, 0-3) travel to No. 6 Oklahoma (6-0, 3-0) for a noon kickoff with each teams getting back from their respective byes. It’s the primary meeting between the 2 schools, and potentially the just one for the foreseeable future because the Sooners depart for the SEC next July.

UCF football midseason grades: Offense explosive in spurts, run D struggling badly

Dillon Gabriel, who threw for 8,037 yards, 70 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions in parts of three seasons at UCF, put the Sooners within the Big 12 driver’s seat with a late, go-ahead touchdown pass against Texas two weeks ago. In accordance with Caesars Sportsbook, Gabriel is currently second amongst Heisman Trophy favorites (+800), trailing only Michael Penix Jr. of undefeated Washington.

“He’s got an impressive skillset. You discuss a man who, once we had him, day by day in practice he would make a throw that might make you go, ‘Wow,'” said Gus Malzahn, who coached Gabriel for 3 games at UCF in 2021 prior to the southpaw suffering a season-ending broken collarbone in a loss at Louisville. “He’s a veteran guy now, too. Take into consideration all of the snaps he’s played, and you’ll be able to see while you watch him on film that he’s got really good command. He knows when to throw the ball away, and he’s got great courage to attend until the last second to get the ball out.”

Oklahoma averages 45.2 points per game, the fourth-best mark in major college football. Gabriel is completing 72.3% of his throws, accumulating 1,878 passing yards with 16 touchdowns against two interceptions.

“I believe it’s interesting how college football brings all of it full circle,” Gabriel told reporters earlier this week. “I’m excited for it. I’m excited for each opportunity. Grateful that I get to expire with these guys, and it is going to be an ideal time.”

As for UCF’s current quarterback situation, John Rhys Plumlee has been declared fit to return to the starting lineup. The additional week of rest proved useful for his meniscus injury, though the fifth-year senior will proceed to wear a brace.

Plumlee began against Kansas, exited after 4 snaps and attempted to gut out two more drives before making way for Timmy McClain. He described feeling a “snap, crackle, and pop” after the competition and apprehensive he reaggravated the injury, but Plumlee feels comfortable along with his progress entering the stretch run.

“I believe I’m pretty near that mark,” Plumlee said when asked if he was at 100% entering the week. “Had a extremely good practice (Sunday), with the ability to move around and throw it well. Moved the best way I would like to maneuver. I’m really thankful for that.”

Injuries have hampered Plumlee in conference play in each of his years at UCF. He suffered a concussion last October versus Cincinnati, a shoulder injury the next month against Navy, and a hamstring pull within the regular-season finale at South Florida that limited his availability and effectiveness within the American Athletic Conference’s championship game at Tulane.

Listed here are three things to look at Saturday afternoon.

Ricky Barber on account of return, gives boost to struggling run defense

Plumlee’s availability is important and grabs the headlines, but Ricky Barber’s return is an equally enormous lift for UCF’s struggling defense.

The 6-foot-3, 295-pound redshirt senior tried to play through pain against each Kansas State and Baylor but logged a combined total of 25 snaps in those games. He sat out against Villanova and Kansas.

Kansas steamrolled UCF on the bottom, totaling 399 rushing yards in a 51-22 blowout.

“I believe that we’re higher than that,” Barber said. “We have got to do our job and get it done. It’s little mistakes that get us over time. One man doesn’t do their job on the sector, we will get gashed for an enormous run.”

Barber is the Knights’ fifth-highest graded run defender (76.7) amongst players with at the least 100 snaps in line with Pro Football Focus. He graded out positively in that department over each of the previous three seasons as well, including his 2020 campaign at Western Kentucky.

In Barber’s absence, true freshman John Walker and Matthew Alexander have seen the vast majority of playing time alongside interior starter Lee Hunter.

Can UCF keep pace within the passing game?

Oklahoma might rank eighty fifth within the nation in passing yards allowed, but that stat feels misleading — especially considering its ability to take the ball away.

The Sooners are tied for second nationally with 12 interceptions; Gentry Williams leads the team with three picks, while Billy Bowman, Key Lawrence, and Kendel Dolby have two apiece. Opposing quarterbacks, for comparison, have thrown six touchdown passes.

Plumlee has flashed improved accuracy downfield in his limited motion, and Javon Baker, Kobe Hudson, and Xavier Townsend have shared the receiving highlight at various times this season. Hudson had three consecutive 100-yard games in September.

Oklahoma will definitely prepare to decelerate UCF’s run game, averaging 193.3 yards per game in Big 12 play. That can put the pressure on Plumlee to hit some early completions and keep the Sooners honest, while also keeping pace with their high-octane offense.

Orlando-area natives Danny Stutsman, Jayden Gibson making an impact for Sooners

UCF has gained a greater foothold in recruiting its own backyard in Malzahn’s tenure, a priority of his upon arrival aided by the move right into a Power Five conference. Nevertheless, Oklahoma snatched a pair of blue-chippers from the western side of Orange County — including one among the country’s premier linebackers.

Windermere native Danny Stutsman (6-4, 236) was named to 6 midseason All-America lists this week, including those of The Associated Press, ESPN, and USA TODAY. Stutsman leads the Big 12 in tackles per game (9.7), and he has been at the guts of the Sooners’ defensive turnaround.

“I needed to get numerous tickets,” Stutsman said. “It’s sort of a contest between me and Dillon for whoever can get essentially the most tickets.”

Meanwhile, Winter Garden’s Jayden Gibson could see an expanded role at wide receiver with Andrel Anthony ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. The sophomore (6-5, 196) has scored on two of his six receptions this season and contributed 159 receiving yards.

Jalil Farooq, Nic Anderson, Drake Stoops, and Brenen Thompson round out the core group of pass-catchers at Gabriel’s disposal.

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