Week 4 Preview: #15 UCF at Pittsburgh

The nationally-ranked Golden Knights will be tested on the road

Breezy Baldwin, Flickr
  • UCF hammered Pittsburgh 45-14 last season.

  • The Knights are 11.5-point favorites in the Steel City.

  • The total currently sits at 61.5

When the UCF Knights met the Pittsburgh Panthers in Orlando last season, it wasn’t close. UCF raced out to a 31-7 halftime lead over Pitt on a hot day in central Florida, eventually cruising to a 45-14 victory in an easy cover for UCF bettors. The Knights’ offense more than doubled up the Panthers in terms of total yardage, racking up a whopping 568 total yards against a Pitt team that went on to win the ACC Coastal.

#15 UCF at Pittsburgh 

Saturday, 3:30pm EST

Consensus: UCF -11.5, O/U 61.5

BetQL: UCF ★, Over ★★★

Situation Leading Up to Kickoff

UCF has been a fantastic team to bet on over the last few years. The Knights continue to showcase why they are the best Group of Five team in the country, and they are now 28-1 since the start of the 2017 season. Their offense has continually been one of the best in the country, leading to UCF posting a sterling 20-8-1 ATS mark over that stretch.

Pittsburgh is unlikely to defend its ACC Coastal title after a home loss to Virginia in its season opener, but the Panthers have played well these last two weeks. Pitt knocked off Ohio 20-10 in Week 2, covering as a four-point favorite. Last week, the Panthers moved to 2-1 ATS on the year by staying within the number against rival Penn State in a 17-10 loss. The BetQL model loved Pittsburgh as a 17-point underdog, rating the Panthers as a four-star play.

UCF Preview

Before leaving for Nebraska at the end of the 2017 season, Scott Frost left his mark on the program in more ways than one. Frost first made a name for himself in the coaching world by recruiting and coaching Marcus Mariota at Oregon, and he discovered that Hawaii had a lot of untapped talent at the quarterback position. He kept that in mind when he came to UCF, signing McKenzie Milton out of Hawaii, and successor Josh Heupel has kept that Hawaii talent pipeline open. Heupel signed true freshman Dillon Gabriel from the same high school as Milton, and now Gabriel is following in Milton’s footsteps at UCF.

Gabriel earned his first start against Florida Atlantic two weeks ago, and he showed that he had a knack for making big plays. He completed just 36.9 percent of his passes during the game, but the freshman connected on multiple deep balls, throwing for 245 yards and two scores off of just seven completions. 

His performance last week against Stanford was incredible. Gabriel displayed poise you don’t often see in a freshman, torching the Cardinal secondary for 347 yards and four touchdowns on a day where he was much more efficient through the air. He overcame his previous accuracy woes by completing 22-of-30 passes.

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He has been helped by arguably the best running game at the G5 level too. UCF catches opposing defenses off guard with their tempo and surprising commitment to the run, and their stable of running backs eventually wear down opposing defenses. The top four running backs on UCF are all averaging six yards or more per carry, and all four players have the speed to house a run. Greg McCrae, Bentavious Thompson, Otis Anderson, and Adrian Killins Jr. all have at least one carry of 30 yards or more.

In past years, UCF’s defense was a liability. That has not been the case this year. This secondary is very active with 20 passes defended this season, putting them among the nation’s leaders. The Knights have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 44.8 percent of their passes on the year.

Pitt Preview

Mark Whipple was supposed to spice up the offense after Pat Narduzzi hired him to be the Panthers’ offensive coordinator this offseason. Whipple’s UMass offenses put up some big numbers through the air during his time with the Minutemen, but that has yet to transition over to Pitt.

Quarterback Kenny Pickett hasn’t struggled, but also hasn’t risen to an elite status. He has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 878 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Those numbers aren’t terrible, but he rarely stretches the field, averaging just 6.8 yards per pass.

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That has led to opposing defenses crowding the line of scrimmage on Pitt, preventing the run game from getting going. The Panthers are averaging just 2.8 yards per carry this season, and their running backs have been unable to get to the second level. Pitt’s longest run so far this year is 22 yards, so they can’t depend on the occasional chunk play from the ground game.

Pitt’s defense has performed very well this season and they did an excellent job of stifling Penn State’s offense last week. However, they have not seen an offense quite like UCF. The Knights play at a much faster pace than a Penn State side that is averaging just 57 plays per game.

Using BetQL

One of the BetQL model’s strongest plays last week was Pittsburgh to cover the spread against Penn State. The BetQL model predicted that Pittsburgh would stay within the number quite easily, making the Panthers a five-star play. The model does not feel too great about Pitt’s chances this week though, calling for UCF to cover. 

Prediction

UCF used tempo to wear down Pitt’s defense pretty early last season, and the Knights will do the same thing on Saturday. The Panthers front seven will be gassed by halftime, allowing the Knights to score at will. The Knights won’t relent, knowing they must post an impressive victory to have even a slight chance of making the College Football Playoff, and that will lead to a UCF cover that goes over the total.