No. 13 UCF rolled to its 17th straight victory on Saturday, dominating Pitt 45-14 in front of an announced crowd of 44,904 at Spectrum Stadium.
“There’s such a fine line between success and failure,” UCF coach Josh Heupel said. “We want to go 1-0, be plus-one on the scoreboard, however that might happen. We do want our kids dialed in to the details of our prep. They adjusted really well today… I thought our guys prepared in a great way and that lends itself to playing the way we did.”
The Knights (4-0, 1-0 AAC) were locked in from the opening kickoff. They took an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter, with quarterback McKenzie Milton picking up both a rushing and passing touchdown. After an 85-yard punt return got the Panthers (2-3, 1-1 ACC) on the board, UCF responded with 31 straight points.
Saturday was the most complete game of the year for Heupel’s team. The offense stayed hot, scoring over 30 points for the 17th consecutive game. Milton finished with six total touchdowns for the second straight week, with four of them coming through the air. He connected with four different receivers for those scores, spreading the ball around throughout the day.
“The guys that I got in our arsenal, it makes me look a lot better than I actually am,” Milton said. “They were playing us in man [coverage] and if teams wanna do that, we’re all for it. We match up with any team in the country at the skill positions.”
The defense had its best performance of the season, holding the Panthers to just 272 total yards and one late touchdown. Quarterback Kenny Pickett completed just 16-of-26 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown. His biggest mistake of the day came with Pitt threatening, throwing an interception in UCF territory. It was the third interception, and fourth overall turnover, of the year for Richie Grant.
“We love it,” Grant said. “We’re all ball-hungry, so anybody gets a turnover, you’re going to get your head slapped a couple of times. We know that’s what we can do. When a guy does it, that’s what we expect.”
The Knights held the Panthers to 163 passing yards, with 58 coming on one play, and just 109 yards on the ground.
The win was UCF’s 10th straight at Spectrum Stadium and marked the program’s second 4-0 start as an FBS program, with the other coming last year.
What We Learned: Beating teams from “Power Five” conferences no longer feels like a huge deal, at least to UCF’s coaches and players. Considering their status as a “Group of Five” team, every non-conference contest looks big for the Knights. But after dominating Pitt, an ACC team, the feeling was that it was business as usual.
“The outsiders are gonna judge it as they may,” Heupel said. “We focus on the daily task at hand. We focus on one week at a time. They’re continuing to buy in to what we’re doing… It’s on us to play better out there in all three phases out there, whether [the opponent] is from one of those other conferences [or not]. We certainly handled our business today.”
UCF’s 17-game winning streak includes “Power Five” wins over Maryland, Auburn and Pitt.
What Went Right: Just about everything. UCF was the better team throughout the whole afternoon, out-classing Pitt on offense and defense. Without one special teams play and a late touchdown, the Panthers would have been shut out on Saturday. Milton continued to look the part of a Heisman Trophy candidate, his receivers continued to shine and the defense played a solid game.
The Knights were able to dominate their way to another victory by making adjustments. The offense used its up-tempo style to wear down the Pitt defense, racking up 568 total yards (328 passing, 240 rushing). It was a standard day at the office for Milton, continuing to develop his connection with Gabe Davis, who caught four passes for 80 yards and a touchdown.
The defense bounced back from a tough game last week in which FAU’s Devin Singletary ran for 131 yards and three touchdowns. This week, the run defense stood tall. Pitt running back Qadree Ollison ran for just 49 yards in the loss.
“The front four played on the other side of the line of scrimmage,” Heupel said. “The linebackers keyed in on all the different formations [and] motions. I thought we handled all the variables very well. [They’re] really starting to grasp what we’re trying to do on that side of the ball. They played fantastic.”
What Went Wrong: Not much. The Knights had one special teams mistake, allowing an 85-yard punt return early in the game. That play came after last week’s tough outing for the kickoff return team, but there isn’t a lot of concern about the unit in the team’s locker room.
“Special teams was really solid, besides the one play,” Heupel said. “I thought Matt Wright did a really good job pinning the ball on kickoffs, something that was an issue a week ago.”
Offensive Player of the Game: McKenzie Milton. He only completed 52.9 percent of his passes, but picked up his 11th career 300-yard passing game and second straight week of six total touchdowns. He connected with six different receivers on the day and threw four touchdowns to four different receivers: Gabe Davis, Michael Colubiale, Adrian Killins and Otis Anderson.
Despite what looked like a big afternoon, the junior wasn’t satisfied with his performance.
“I thought we left some points out there,” he said. “I made some poor throws. I thought there were a few I didn’t follow through on. 18-for-34, obviously, there’s room for improvement.”
With an early 64-yard pass to Adrian Killins, Milton passed the 7,000-yard passing mark for his career. Later in the quarter, he passed Blake Bortles for both total touchdowns and passing touchdowns.
“It means a lot. I look up to Blake. He’s a legend here, obviously,” Milton said. “Any time my name is in the same sentence as him, that’s big.”
Defensive Player of the Game: Richie Grant. The Knights are getting big plays every week from the redshirt sophomore, as he now has four turnovers (three interceptions) in the first four games. In addition to his interception, he finished the day with eight tackles, which was good for second on the team.
His tackling and ball-hawking skills are standing out on the field, but he has also been asked to step up as a leader. The process, he said, started before Tre Neal transferred to Nebraska over the summer.
“[Tre] knew this would be his last year, him and [Kyle Gibson], and he told me I need to voice my opinion more with the team and the defense,” Grant said. “It started back then and when he left, I was really fortunate to go in to being a vocal guy on the field and off the field. I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job.”
UCF hosts SMU next Saturday (Oct. 6), kicking off a run of seven straight conference games. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.