No. 13 UCF looks to extend winning streak against Pittsburgh

Sports Xchange

Central Florida looks to extend the nation’s longest winning streak when it plays the second contest of a three-game homestand by hosting Pittsburgh Saturday.

Kickoff at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando is 3:30 p.m. with ESPNU doing the telecast.

The 13th-ranked Knights (3-0) will be going for their 17th consecutive victory after extending not only their overall winning streak to 16 but their stretch of 30-plus-point games to 16 with their 56-36 victory over Florida Atlantic last week.

The last time the Knights failed to score at least 30 points was in a 31-13 loss to Arkansas State in the 2016 AutoNation Cure Bowl. They are averaging 50.0 points per game, which ranks No. 9 in the nation, and they are producing nearly 588 yards a game in total offense, which ranks fifth among FBS teams.

Their pace of 80 plays a game concerns Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi, whose unranked Panthers (2-2) gave up 38 points to a winless North Carolina team in their last outing. Simulating the Knights’ offense in practice this week was a priority.

“Our scout team will probably have wristbands,” Narduzzi said. “We’re going to try to bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. It’s not going to look like them. Just like Georgia Tech’s offense didn’t look like it.”

The uptempo style creates special problems for the defensive game plan, he said.

“These guys,” he said, “they limit you to really doing much pressure-wise because you don’t have time to even communicate.”

One way to combat that tempo might be by limiting the opportunities for UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton and his gang by controlling the clock with a running game. The Panthers have averaged better than 212 yards a game on the ground and 5.4 per carry.

But that has its downside as well, Narduzzi said.

“Yeah,” he said, “but the thing we don’t want to do is handcuff our offense to the point where, ‘Hey, we’ll run it three downs in a row, see if we can eat up the clock and don’t run out of bounds.’

“Nobody wants to coach that way. Nobody wants to play that way offensively.”

Pitt’s physical style concerns first-year UCF coach Josh Heupel. The Panthers’ starting offensive linemen all top 300 pounds, and running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, who have handled the bulk of the rushing load, both check in at 225 pounds. The Panthers’ defensive front is not as big as the offensive line but ranges from end Rashad Weaver (260) to tackle Amir Watts (290).

“They’re thick, strong and physical up front,” Heupel said. “Extremely big. The biggest defensive front we’ve seen so far. On the backend, they again are going to contest things. They’ll load it up and make it difficult to run the football. You gotta win one-on-ones on the outside.”

Despite the wide final margin, Heupel’s Knights got a bit of a challenge last week against FAU, trailing for the first time this season when the visiting Owls scored 17 consecutive points to overcome a two-touchdown deficit and take a 17-14 lead late in the first half. But the Knights’ deficit lasted for just 63 seconds when they responded with a five-play, 78-yard scoring drive capped by Milton’s touchdown pass.

“I think we came out really fast, handled adversity when they flipped the score on us and came back and responded the way good teams and mature teams do,” Heupel said. “We showed that we’re mature competitors that way, and I liked the way we played in the third quarter, so a lot of positives.”

After playing Pitt, the Knights will be home again to start October play against SMU. They will be on the road for the second time this season when they go to Memphis for a what shapes up to be a decisive American Athletic Conference outing on Oct. 13.