NORMAN, Okla. – Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gaibriel is looking forward to facing his former school.
Gabriel passed for more than 8,000 yards at UCF, then transferred well before the announcement that the Knights would leave the American Athletic Conference for the Big 12. UCF is playing its first Big 12 season now, creating the matchup between Gabriel’s past and present teams.
“I think it’s interesting how college football brings it all full circle,” Gabriel said. “I’m excited for it. I’m excited for every opportunity. Grateful that I get to run out with these guys. It’ll be a great time.”
Gabriel’s decision has worked out. He’s a Heisman Trophy hopeful and the sixth-ranked Sooners (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) have a clear path to a spot in the Big 12 title game. He got the nation’s attention when he passed for 285 yards and ran for 113 to lead the Sooners in a 34-30 win over Texas.
UCF coach Gus Malzahn, who briefly coached Gabriel before the transfer, is impressed with Gabriel's development.
“You can see when you watch him on film, he’s got really good command,” Malzahn said. “He knows when to throw the ball away. He’s got great courage. He’ll wait until the last second, get the ball out. And then you talk about the RPO (run/pass option) world. They’re good at running the football, but he’s also good at reading it. So really, it’s all of the above with him.”
Gabriel said UCF’s defense is capable of inflicting damage. The Knights (3-3, 0-3) are 27th of 133 programs nationally in yards passing allowed per game.
“They’re a very talented group,” he said. “Very fast and physical, and I just know what that program’s all about. So, we’ll have our hands full, and us being able to play at the highest level will be important.”
UCF has found another elite quarterback in John Rhys Plumlee. But the dual threat has missed most of the past month with a leg injury. Malzahn said Monday that Plumlee will be ready.
“He will start for sure,” Malzahn said.
UCF wants to bounce back from a 51-22 loss to Kansas before the bye week.
“I still think we have a good team,” Malzahn said. “We just need to play good football, and I think we’re ready to do that.”
Oklahoma linebacker Danny Stutsman has been a force this season. Voted a second-team AP midseason All-American, he ranks second in the Big 12 and sixth nationally with 1.8 tackles for loss per game. He's averaging a league-high 9.7 stops per game — 15th nationally — and returned an interception for a touchdown at Tulsa.
UCF was one of 23 schools nationally and three in the Big 12 listed on the the Joe Moore Award midseason honor roll for offensive line play. Oklahoma coach Brent Venables is impressed with what the Knights offer up front.
“They’ve protected the quarterback and they’re running their system very well,” Venables said. “Whether it’s double teams, the zone game, the gap schemes, the wildcat, protecting the quarterback — they’re doing a great job. They’ve got great cohesion. Their experience shows with the consistency that they’re playing at.”
Oklahoma’s Nic Anderson could get more looks now that Andrel Anthony, the team’s leader in yards receiving, is out for the season with a leg injury. Anderson, a 6-foot-4 freshman, has six touchdowns on just 11 catches, including the game-winner in the final minute against Texas.
“I’d say he’s got some stuff that you can’t coach,” Gabriel said. “And on top of that, he’s very coachable. So you mix the two — he’s very talented and very smart — so he’s just been able to take advantage of every opportunity when he’s in.”
GROUND AND POUND
UCF ranks third nationally with 246.3 yards rushing per game. R.J. Harvey leads the way with 511 yards and six touchdowns on the ground this season. Johnny Richardson has rushed for 441 yards and averages 8.3 yards per carry. Plumlee averages 8.6 yards per rush.
“They know how to put you in conflict, put pressure on you and you’ve got to play with great precision and physicality both,” Venables said. “And you’ve got to close space quickly because their playmakers can run away from you in a hurry.”
UCF is seeking its fourth top-10 win ever and the first since its 2017 Peach Bowl win over Malzahn-coached Auburn. The Knights also are looking for their first Big 12 win.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll