BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — Pressed into duty, Central Florida freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel played well enough to beat Florida Atlantic, and perhaps even well enough to keep the starting job.
Gabriel went 7 for 19 but threw touchdown passes of 57 and 74 yards, and No. 18 UCF extended its regular-season winning streak to 24 games by easing past Florida Atlantic 48-14 Saturday night.
The highly regarded Gabriel made his first start after coming off the bench to throw three scoring passes in last week’s season-opening rout of Florida A&M. Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush, who started the opener, was nursing an injury from that game and sat out.
“When my name’s called, I’m going to be there — whatever the team needs,” Gabriel said. “We’re in a unique situation at the quarterback position. Every guy has the talent to play.”
Coach Josh Heupel said Wimbush could have played in an emergency, and declined to say which quarterback will start next week’s game against No. 23 Stanford.
Gabriel learned Thursday he would start against FAU.
“Not a huge deal,” he said.
It was to the Owls, who were drubbed so thoroughly that coach Lane Kiffin apologized for his team’s performance.
Along with the two touchdown throws, Gabriel connected on passes of 45 and 32 yards, which more than made up for his frequent misfires. The left-hander totaled 245 yards passing — 35 per completion — and ran four times for 19 yards and a score.
“He did some things really well,” Heupel said. “Ultimately he made enough plays to give us some offensive balance.”
“We knew that guy was really talented, really special,” Kiffin said.
The Knights (2-0) totaled 574 yards and reached the 30-point mark for the 28th game in a row, the longest such streak since at least 1936. The only thing that stopped them was lightning in the area, which prompted the game to be called with 4:20 to play.
Florida Atlantic (0-2) disappointed a home crowd of 30,811, largest in the program’s history.
“That’s an embarrassing performance by us,” Kiffin said. “It was a big game for a lot of people here, so I apologize to our fans, I apologize to the people who got us here, from the president down.”
The Owls have never beaten a Top 25 team in 15 tries.
UCF running back Adrian Killins Jr. scored one touchdown rushing and another receiving. Otis Anderson had the Knights’ longest run when he juked past a safety for a 39-yard score.
UCF needed less than six minutes to take a 14-0 lead, and by halftime the margin was 28-6, even though Gabriel had completed just three passes.
“We’ve got a lot left out there,” Heupel said. “We’ve got to be more consistent in the passing game.”
Gabriel sealed the outcome midway through the third quarter with a completion to Killins, who was open by 10 yards at midfield and weaved past four defenders to the end zone for a 74-yard score.
“This offense is lethal and deadly, because we have so many different people at different positions who can do a lot of things,” Killins said.
UCF sacked Chris Robison four times and stopped the Owls on third down 14 times. The Knights led 48-6 before allowing a touchdown for the first time this season.
The Knights gained 120 yards in the first 5½ minutes to take a 14-0 lead. They drove 75 yards in seven plays for their first score, and after a blocked punt, Gabriel hit Jacob Harris deep for a 57-yard touchdown.
“If you play bad early against these guys they’ll blow you out, because the game’s going to go really fast,” Kiffin said.
After their 62-0 season-opening win last week, the Knights dropped one spot in the poll. That probably won’t happen again.
UCF: The Knights weren’t tested but remain on schedule for another banner season.
FAU: The Owls, playing a ranked team at home for the first time in the program’s history, weren’t ready for a breakthrough win.
Ex-NFLers Ray Lewis and Edgerrin James watched from the FAU sideline.
UCF: The Knights have an opportunity to answer criticism about a perennially soft schedule when they play at home next Saturday against Stanford (1-1), which lost at Southern Cal 45-20 on Saturday.
“This is a big one for us,” Heupel said. “A huge test, but a great opportunity on a national stage to put our logo in front of the country and show the type of championship football we play.”
FAU: After facing ranked teams in the first two games, Florida Atlantic plays at Ball State (1-1) on Saturday.