AAC Roundup: UCF Continues To Dominate Regardless Of Who They Play

ORLANDO – UCF finally got to play a team from the ACC.

Last year’s scheduled home game against Georgia Tech was wiped out on account of Hurricane Irma. This season’s game at North Carolina was likewise cancelled thanks to Hurricane Florence.

The only weather concern in Orlando on Saturday afternoon was the heat that resulted in cramping, and with what more than once appeared to be a little acting, on the part of Pitt players.

Alas, injury timeouts only served to delay the inevitable as the Knights improved to 4-0 (1-0 AAC) with a 45-14 thumping of the Panthers.

“We are 1-0 this week,” said coach Justin Fuente, when asked about the significance of soundly defeating their guests from the Power Five. “The outsiders will judge it as they may. I, and our football team, really focus on the daily task at hand, focus on one week at a time.”

The victory, in which UCF was dominant on both sides of scrimmage, upped the win streak to 17. The Knights also inched ahead one spot in both polls, to No. 12 in the AP and No. 13 in the coaches.

Quarterback McKenzie Milton totaled 379 yards (328 passing) and six touchdowns (four via the air) as the Knights piled up 31 first downs and 568 yards in exploiting Pitt’s man coverage.

“If teams want to do that we are all for it,” said Milton, who also accounted for a half-dozen touchdowns the week before against FAU and who has totaled an eye-opening 18 TDs in four games. “I think we match up with any team in the country at the skill positions in man coverage.”

As for beating an ACC program, well, a win is a win.

“I think it is always good to get an out-of-conference win no matter who it is,” said Milton, who went over 7,000-career passing yards. “I don’t know how much it says. Hopefully, we can keep beating teams by big margins. I think that says a lot about how we approach our craft week in and week out. It does’t matter who we play. We are trying be 1-0 at the end of each week. Whether it is an SEC, ACC or American Conference opponent we approach it the same.”

A defense that more than did its part can match up nicely as well. On Saturday, it wasn’t until their final possession that the Panthers’ offense put points on the board. Up to that point Pitt’s only score was on an 85-yard punt return by former Winter Park standout Rafael Araujo-Lopes in the opening quarter.

“I thought our defensive line dominated the football game,” said Heupel, whose team hosts SMU on Saturday night.

Indeed, it wasn’t until Pitt’s final drive that they went over 200 yards and finished with 272.

As everything continues to hum along nicely at UCF, here is a look what else is going on in the conference after the first month of play.

East Division

Cincinnati (5-0/1-0)
Last week: Won at UConn, 49-7
Next: vs Tulane, Saturday
Comment: Five wins have come against opponents that are a combined 6-16. Still, Bearcats won only four games each of the last two seasons….Career of freshman QB Devin Ridder is off to a very nice start….Luke Fickell’s team received 35 votes in the AP poll.

USF (4-0/1-0)
Last week: Bye
Next: at UMass, Saturday
Comment: The Bulls are the only Group of Five team with victories over two Power Five programs, Georgia Tech and Illinois….With a date at Tulsa and a visit from UConn following the trip to UMass, it is easy to see how Charlie Strong’s team could be 7-0 heading into an Oct. 27 matchup at Houston….The Bulls received 83 votes, or 27th overall, in the AP poll. They received 109 votes in the coaches poll, good for 26th overall and 12 votes behind No. 25 North Carolina State.

Temple (2-3/1-0)
Last week: Lost at Boston College, 45-35
Next: vs ECU, Saturday
Comment: Sept. 15 win at Maryland has been the only game where offense and defense clicked. Owls have turned the ball over 11 times through five games….Who will be the QB against ECU, Anthony Russo or Frank Nutile?

ECU (2-2/0-1)
Last week: Beat Old Dominion at home, 37-35
Next: at Temple, Saturday
Comment: Last-minute field goal by Jake Verity allowed Pirates to escape ODU. Senior DE Nate Harvey had three of ECU’s nine sacks….Following Temple in Philly are home games against Houston, UCF and Memphis.

UConn (1-4/0-2)
Last week: Lost to Cincinnati at home, 49-7
Next: at Memphis, Saturday
Comment: Have been outscored 105-24 in two conference games. The Huskies are allowing 663 yards per game, good for 129th and last in the FBS.

West Division

SMU (2-3/1-0)
Last week: Beat Houston Baptist at home, 63-27
Next: at UCF, Saturday
Comment: The Mustangs go from Houston Baptist, which started football in 2013 and has won all of 10 games all-time as a classified program, to playing UCF….William Brown and last year’s starter, Ben Hicks, have been sharing the QB duties.

Tulane (2-3/1-0)
Last week: Beat Memphis, 40-24
Next: at Cincinnati, Saturday
Comment: In an impressive Friday night win against Memphis the Green Wave rolled for 318 yards on the ground….Junior Corey Dauphine has 376 yards and five TDs on only 37 carries.

Navy (2-2/1-1)
Last week: Bye
Next: at Air Force, Saturday
Comment: Middies look to take the first leg in the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy round-robin in Colorado Springs….Three quarterbacks – starter Malcolm Perry, Zach Abey and Garret Lewis – were utilized in the last game, an OT loss at SMU, after Perry suffered a concussion. He should be good to go against Air Force.

Houston (3-1/0-0)
Last week: Bye
Next: vs Tulsa, Thursday
Comment: Cougars lead AAC in scoring (52.2 points) and total offense (609 yards), though in their last game against an FBS opponent the defense was torched for 704 yards in a 63-43 loss to Texas Tech.

Tulsa (1-3/0-1)
Last week: Bye
This week: at Houston, Thursday
Comment: In taking over for the school’s all-time leading rusher, D’Angelo Brewer, sophomores Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor II have combined for 634 yards and have accounted for seven of the team’s 12 touchdowns.

Memphis (3-2/0-1)
Next: vs UConn, Saturday
Comment: While defense allowed 496 yards against Tulane, including 318 on the ground, the offense was held to 277. Running back Darrell Henderson had 98 yards (51 rushing) on only nine touches and has 1,042 all-purpose yards through five games. His average of 208 per game is second nationally.

Tom Layberger has been a sports writer and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Beckett Publishing, The Topps Company and Comcast. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and Tampa Bay Business & Wealth Magazine. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a University of South Florida grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.