After taking its bye week to reflect and improve on what went wrong in its Oct. 3 loss to Tulsa, UCF returned to the field on Saturday at the Liberty Bowl for a matchup against Memphis. The Knights were looking for a bounce-back effort against the Tigers, but instead, they ended up with more frustration, losing 50-49 despite putting up 798 yards of offense.
The loss was UCF’s first at the hands of Memphis since 1990, and it marked the program’s first time losing back-to-back games since 2016. The Knights are now 2-2 overall and 1-2 in AAC play, which effectively ends their hopes for a New Year’s Six Bowl bid and severely damages their conference title chances.
Before we turn our attention to Saturday’s home game against Tulane (2-3, 0-3 AAC), it’s time for the return of our weekly Knights of the Round Table feature.
A reminder of how this works: After each of UCF’s games, we’ll decide which Knights were the top performers, and those guys will get a seat at that week’s round table. The top performer will fittingly get the seat at the head of the table. OK, let’s go.
Seat 1: Ryan O’Keefe (4 catches, 175 yards, TD, 43.8 AVG)
As disappointing as UCF’s loss to Memphis was, there was plenty to love about the offensive output for the Knights. The usual suspects (who we’ll get to) were impressive, but the emergence of Ryan O’Keefe as a big-play receiver deserves plenty of attention. The sophomore speedster totaled just four catches in the game, but he had some huge ones, as evidenced by his 175-yard, one-touchdown performance. Three of his four receptions went for over 30 yards, with the biggest one being his 93-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter that put UCF up 43-29. That 93-yarder was the new longest pass play in program history, and even the one catch that wasn’t for 30-plus yards was still a 12-yarder for a first down. It was an impressive breakout performance for O’Keefe, whose speed will surely be an asset for the UCF offense going forward.
This is Ryan O’Keefe’s first appearance on Knights of the Round Table.
Seat 2: Greg McCrae (17 carries, 78 yards, TD, 4.6 AVG; 4 catches, 27 yards)
Considering the unreal passing numbers that UCF put up on Saturday at the Liberty Bowl, it’s not surprising that the success of the run game is being overlooked. But the Knights ran for 197 yards on 47 carries, averaging a solid 4.2 yards per attempt. At the forefront of that rushing effort was Greg McCrae, who put up a team-high 78 rushing yards on 17 carries. He scored UCF’s first touchdown of the afternoon, plus he added some to the passing game, bringing in four passes for 27 yards. It wasn’t anything like the classic McCrae performances we saw in the 2018 season, but it was still a strong day for the senior running back. He carried the load for the backfield, providing the necessary complement to the dominance of the passing attack. With his health having been a concern in the first few games—and heading into the contest against Memphis—McCrae delivered. Keeping him healthy will be key if the Knights want to go on any kind of run during the rest of the season.
This is Greg McCrae’s first appearance on Knights of the Round Table.
Seat 3: Jaylon Robinson (10 catches, 173 yards, 2 TD, 17.3 AVG)
UCF’s offense has a wealth of speed, especially at receiver. That means big plays are to be expected, and Jaylon Robinson has been producing a lot of them so far this season. The Oklahoma transfer had another big day on Saturday, totaling 173 yards and two touchdowns on 10 receptions. One of his scores came from 43 yards out, while the other was a 10-yarder. It’s clear that the sophomore has the trust of his quarterback and his coaching staff, and he is paying it off nicely. He already has 539 yards and four touchdowns on 28 catches in 2020, with an average of 19.3 yards per catch. He also has four 100-yard games and two 150-yard games in four games. Simply put, Robinson has been phenomenal in his first season as a Knight. And with Tre Nixon sidelined, Robinson has settled in just fine as the No. 2 receiver on this offense. With his speed and playmaking ability, he is definitely one of the players on the offense that is the most fun to watch.
This is Jaylon Robinson’s second appearance on Knights of the Round Table.
Seat 4: Marlon Williams (13 catches, 191 yards, TD, 2 2-pt conv, 14.7 AVG)
Unsurprisingly, there’s a third receiver at the Round Table this week, and it’s Marlon Williams. The senior continued to lead the way for the position group on Saturday, finishing with 191 yards and a touchdown on 13 catches, with that touchdown being an 85-yarder that was the offense’s longest play from scrimmage this season… until a couple of quarters later. He (unofficially) had six first-down catches on the day, plus he had two big two-point conversion receptions, which were obviously very important, considering they helped put the Knights in position for a game-winning field goal late in the game. Williams, along with O’Keefe and Robinson, truly couldn’t have done more in this game. The trio was magnificent, which is why it’s no surprise that the specific duo of Williams and Robinson have the most combined receiving yards of any duo in the country (1,118). There’s no doubt that those two, as well as O’Keefe, contributed to a certain quarterback landing a seat at the head of the Round Table yet again this week…
This is Marlon Williams’ third appearance on Knights of the Round Table.
Head of the Table: Dillon Gabriel (35-49, 601 yards, 5 TD; 12 carries, 49 yards, TD)
In three editions of Knights of the Round Table, Dillon Gabriel has found himself at the Head of the Table three times. It may seem boring for that to be the case, but it’s simply what the sophomore quarterback has deserved. He is playing at a way higher level than UCF’s overall record would indicate, and it’s an absolute shame that he was on the losing side of Saturday’s game. He completed 71.4% of his pass attempts and became the first quarterback in UCF history to throw for over 500 yards in a game. And the thing is, he threw for over 600 yards, too. He finished with 601 and five passing scores, making him the first quarterback to throw for 500-plus yards and five touchdowns in a losing effort since Patrick Mahomes did it for Texas Tech in 2016. He also became the first quarterback since Mahomes—also in 2016—to complete two touchdowns of 80-plus yards in the same game. It was ridiculous performance from Gabriel, who also ran for 49 yards and a score. By virtue of setting single-game conference records for passing yards and total offense, the Hawaiian sensation earned co-AAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
This is Dillon Gabriel’s third appearance on Knights of the Round Table and his third appearance at the Head of the Table.