Skip to main content
Publish date:

The Head Coaching Matchup, Luke Fickell Versus Gus Malzahn

Head Coach Luke Fickell versus Head Coach Gus Malzahn, which one comes up with the better game plan on Saturday?

ORLANDO - When Cincinnati hosts UCF on Saturday at 12 EST, there will be a meeting of the minds. Two of college football’s most creative schematic and play calling head coaches will collide.

A great coaching matchup deserves more attention. A few facts and thoughts regarding the head coaches for tomorrow’s UCF at Cincinnati game, beginning with the Bearcats’ head man.

Cincinnati Head Football Coach Luke Fickell learned on the job, and he’s done it quite well despite taking over a program that was just 11-14 during the two prior seasons before he arrived. After a 4-8 season in 2017, the Cincinnati program took off by way of finishing with a 11-2 record in 2018, and a 11-3 record in 2019. This past season, the Bearcats were nearly perfect, finishing 9-1.

What Fickell does best would be come up with new defensive concepts, and utilize speed to make those concepts work. In short, he’s innovative yet understands that physical talent allows a defense the best chance to win. With his knowledge that he brought over from Ohio State, where he once played and coached for the Buckeyes, plus continuing to grow as the leader of the Bearcats, he’s one of the most fascinating coaches in all of college football.

Cincinnati will use multiple fronts. There will be times that the Bearcats line up in a 3-3-5 alignment, and sometimes a more traditional look of a 3-4 or 4-3 can be seen, depending on one’s perspective. Therein lies the point.

Cincinnati moves its chess pieces prior to the snap of the football, as well as after the quarterback receives a shotgun snap or comes away from center with the football. The camouflage comes by design. Each time an opposing offense needs to readjust because of what the Bearcats do on defense, it’s hard for that offensive unit to be in sync with their overall play designs.

When playing the Bearcats and their multifaceted defense, missed blocks can happen, so too can missed quarterback reads. Those issues stem from Coach Fickell and his creativity on defense. 

Now, the Bearcats developed a talented group of players operate the defense. There’s not necessarily as much need to disguise as much as Cincinnati might have two or three seasons ago, but rest assured that there will be attempts to confuse UCF freshman quarterback Mikey Keene as often as possible. 

The circumstances dictate that the Bearcats, led by Coach Fickell, throw a few wrinkles into the game plan on Saturday. His counterpart will certainly be looking to come up with new ways to create offense, just like he does defense.

Gus Malzahn, Head Coach, UCF

Gus Malzahn, Head Coach, UCF

UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn is known to be one of the most creative offensive minds in college football; he designed the Wildcat formation just as an example. He was the offensive coordinator for Auburn when quarterback Cam Newton led the Tigers to the National Championship and took home the Heisman Trophy as well.

He was also the Head Coach for Auburn during their run to the 2013 National Title game. Coach Malzahn is used to winning, and he’s done so with his offensive mind first and foremost.

During the past several years, Coach Malzahn helped to create and/or transform several run-pass option plays used around college and professional football. He finds unique ways to place the football in the hands of the best skill players. Bottom line, Coach Malzahn continued to be innovative even when other coaches would have just used what they already knew.

He’s different. Coach Malzahn will generate new plays even if that means a new formation and/or play against a very talented defense just like the one Cincinnati possesses. That’s where this contest could become quite interesting.

Will the Knights play this game straight up or utilize a few new formations and plays that the Bearcats did not yet see this season? Perhaps a few trick plays will be in order as well. That’s the history of Coach Malzahn, and there will be no reason to believe anything shall change this Saturday.

Now, how he goes about those changes will be challenging without his quarterback Dillon Gabriel behind center due to a broken clavicle. Maybe that’s where more Wildcat formation will come into play with a quarterback like Joey Gatewood behind center, or perhaps there will be more tempo or totally different plays that UCF did not run this season.

Read More

It’s the chess match between two coaches that like to adjust their personnel and formations accordingly, making it fun for all of college football to watch and learn. Let’s see how these two head coaches go at each other.

For UCF insights, college football news, and recruiting information go to: The Daily Knight podcast. It will be found on iTunes and Spotify. For more UCF and recruiting information, go to Twitter: @fbscout_florida and @UCF_FanNation, as well as my YouTube Channel and Instagram page. Like and Subscribe!

Recent Articles From Inside The Knights

Previewing Clemson at Syracuse, Purdue at No. 2 Iowa, and California at No. 9 Oregon

No. 11 Kentucky Travels to No. 1 Georgia to Decide the Top Position in the SEC East

UCF's Tight End History and UCF Tight End Commitment Grant Stevens

Who Wins the Matchup Between UCF's Front Seven and Cincinnati's Rushing Attack?

UCF Faces Big Challenge When it Goes on the Road to Cincinnati

Previewing Auburn at No. 17 Arkansas and No. 20 Florida at LSU

UCF Must Attack Cincinnati Cornerback Ahmad Gardner

After a Run of Injuries, UCF Football at a Crossroads

Defining Cincinnati Quarterback Desmond Ridder

Cincinnati's Defensive Talent Takes Center Stage

Tuesday's Thoughts: Capitalizing on Miami's Failures

The Daily Knight: Replacing Defensive Tackle Kalia Davis After His Injury

Gus Malzahn's Press Conference, Highlighting Brandon Adams and the Rushing Attack

The Daily Knight: Which College Football Head Coach Gets Fired First in October?

First Look: Cincinnati Bearcats Offensive Skill Players