Sports News

No. 18 UCF packs potent passing for trip to Cincinnati

UCF wide receiver Gabriel Davis often watches college football’s top pass-catchers to emulate their game.

FILE PHOTO: Sep 28, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA;Connecticut Huskies defensive back Malik Dixon (31) tackles UCF Knights wide receiver Gabriel Davis (13) during the second quarter at Spectrum Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay

The junior’s play is starting to look like it belongs in that elite company.

Davis and the No. 18 Knights (4-1, 1-0 American Athletic Conference) moved up four spots in this week’s AP poll after an easy 56-21 home victory over Connecticut on Saturday.

On Friday, UCF will play its first conference road game, against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium.

Davis caught three first-half scores last Saturday from freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel, including shaking off a defensive back on a 73-yard catch-and-run to help UCF race to a 42-0 halftime lead.

Davis had five catches for 119 yards and the trio of TDs against the Huskies for his fifth career 100-yard game. A week earlier, he had a career-high 10 receptions for a career-best 151 yards and two scores in a loss at Pitt.

His team-best eight touchdowns this season give him 19 for his career, eighth on UCF’s all-time list.

The 6-foot-3, 212-pounder was thinking of the standout wide receivers from Alabama and Oklahoma in the game against Connecticut.

“When I caught the ball I thought about guys like Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs (III), those guys that are making big plays like that. CeeDee Lamb just had a big 70-something-yarder today,” said Davis, who sports a bushy, peroxided hairstyle reminiscent of Cleveland Browns star Odell Beckham Jr.

“That’s literally what was going through my head as soon as I caught the ball: I had to do the same thing those guys are doing.”

He might have new company at the position as coach Josh Heupel said Monday that Notre Dame grad transfer quarterback Brandon Wimbush could “absolutely” see time at wide receiver. Wimbush was not on the depth chart at quarterback on Monday.

Gabriel (74 of 120 for 1,338 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions) took over at quarterback in Week 2, and sophomore Darriel Mack Jr. returned from an ankle injury last week. The Knights are 10th nationally with 336.0 passing yards per game.

Coach Luke Fickell’s Bearcats (3-1) found their identity on offense in Saturday’s 52-14 rout at Marshall, and UC likely will use a balanced attack to counter UCF’s quick-strike attack in its conference opener.

Quarterback Desmond Ridder directed a 19-play, 64-yard drive -- only the fourth series of 19 plays in length in college football this season -- that took up 8:48 on Cincinnati’s second series.

“It was a huge drive,” Ridder said. “We had some setbacks, but to be able to finish really shows who we are up front, who we are as an offense.”

Ridder went 18 of 22 for 221 yards against Marshall, tying his career high with four touchdown passes and adding 48 yards rushing. He and SMU signal-caller Shane Buechele shared the AAC’s Offensive Player of the Week honors on Monday.

Ridder, a redshirt sophomore, has completed 63 of 98 passes for 815 yards, with eight touchdowns and three interceptions this season. Michael Warren leads the ground game with 262 yards on 61 carries.

The Bearcats opened the season with a 24-14 win over UCLA before being blanked 42-0 by No. 4 Ohio State. They have posted consecutive lopsided wins over Miami (Ohio) and Marshall, with Fickell saying after Saturday’s game that it was “probably the complete game we’ve been looking for.”

Last season’s matchup marked a big day for UCF, as ESPN hosted its “College GameDay” show at the Orlando school for the first time, leading to a Saturday night showdown at Spectrum Stadium. The Knights beat Cincinnati 38-13 to win the AAC’s East Division on the way to their second consecutive conference title.

--Field Level Media