Pitt Panthers vs UCF Knights Preview

Pitt Panthers vs UCF Knights Preview

Welcome to the most comprehensive Pitt Panthers Game Day Preview on the internet! This is your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about Pitt and their upcoming opponent! Mike Drakulich of Pittsburgh SportsNation brings you inside the huddle for both teams, providing all fans with a Game Story, Pitt’s Keys to Victory, Score Prediction, Game Information, a detailed breakdown of each team, Individual Stats, and Team Stats. Heck, you’ll even know the weather at kickoff! The only thing you’re missing is a game uniform!



The game was there for the taking last week for the Pitt Panthers.

Against their bitter rivals from across the state, and 17.5 point underdogs, there were the Panthers at the Penn State one yard line, down 17-10, midway through the 4th quarter.

The sensible thought would be to run it four straights times, if needed, to get one bloody yard, and know the game up at 17.

Things did not go according to plan. On 4th down, to the shock of not just everyone watching in the stadium and on TV, but to the Panther players themselves, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi decided to go for a field goal…

Yes, a field goal. Narduzzi’s reasoning was three from this possession would put the Panthers down four, with the chance to go ahead the next time they got the ball.

Alex Kessman missed, however, and the air went out of Pitt like a balloon.

The Panther’s defense held tough and gave the offense one last chance, but Kenny Pickett’s throw into the end-zone as time expired was batted away, and the Panthers left Happy Valley with a bitter taste in their mouths, and wondered what could’ve been.

Now the Panthers (1-2) have a chance to make amends against the #15 team in the nation, the UCF Knights (3-0), who have scored 31 plus points in 29 games in a row.

Pitt’s defense feels it is up to the challenge, and they had better be. The Knight’s up tempo play and overall team speed is incredible, and if left unchecked, bad things will happen before the Panther faithful’s eyes this Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field.

“It’s phenomenal how fast they go. They’re averaging 97 snaps a game, ” said Pitt defensive coordinator Randy Bates. “It’s an impressive thing how they do it.”

Previous Pitt opponents averaged 65.6 snaps per game.

The Panthers fell to the Knights last year 45-14, so they have experience in facing this offense.

“We have a little bit of an idea how it works,” Bates said, who then added when asked if he had a new strategy, “Yes…. We’re getting prepared differently. Let’s put it that way.”

With how fast UCF plays, Pitt will plan to rotate their players in and out to keep them fresh and cramp-free, something that hampered the team down in Florida last year.

“I’m as confident as I can be,” Bates said. “They’ve all played now, and they all got experience under their belt.”

One player that will be eager to put a stop to the Knight’s is defensive lineman Jaylen Twyman, who has recorded 4.5 sacks so far this season.

“He’s a bright, young man and also a football mind,” Bates said. “All those things make it really easy to change him up a lot.”

Bates will deploy Twyman all over the field to keep the opposing offense guessing where he’ll be attacking, something Twyman enjoys quite a bit.

“I’m definitely happy with it,” Twyman stated. “They’re letting me play football. It gives me a chance to make a play because the offense doesn’t know where I’m going to be.”

On the offensive side, Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple would like to see his team’s play in the 2nd quarter start to trickle into the 2nd half and put up some much needed points.

All five of Pitt’s touchdowns have been scored in the second quarter.

“I know the stats,” Whipple said Tuesday during interviews. “It’s been our best quarter this year. So let’s play the game like it’s the second quarter.”

The Panthers are the only ACC team to not score a touchdown in the 2nd half this year, and if Pitt is going to pull off the upset over UCF, that trend had better chance in a hurry.

Those 2nd quarter scoring drives have been from 85, 80, 80, 78 and 47 yards. Pickett’s numbers in the 2nd are also off the charts completing 34 of 41 passes for 390 yards and two touchdowns.

Now Whipple and his young quarterback need to find a way to be that consistent all game long.

“He definitely gets in a groove,” Panther wide receiver Maurice Ffrench said of Pickett in the second quarter. “He throws everything on time. … He knows where we’re at and knows what time to throw it at.”

It would behoove the Panthers to finally establish something that resembles a rushing game, which is curiously missing from a program that has been so successful at doing.

“If we can run the ball better, you can stay out of the third-and-long,” Whipple said. “I think we’ve been pretty good up to seven [yards], and then after that there’s been some breakdowns, which kind of happens across the country.”

The Panther offense has yet to be given the ball after any type of huge turnover, something that would certainly aid in Pitt’s scoring capabilities.

“We need to help each other out,” Whipple added. “Field position plays into it.”

Whipple is ready for his unit to do it’s part helping the defense.

“We know we have to put points on the board,” Whipple said. “We have to help the defense. We’ve been trying to do that all along. It’s just been a work in progress.”



Pitt Keys to Victory

  1. Make Splash Plays: Both offensively and defensively. This is what separates great teams from the average ones.
  2. Be Aggressive: UCF is great both ways, you have to take the game to them.
  3. No Backbreaking Turnovers: Turnovers vs UCF is like pouring gas on a fire. Secure the rock.
  4. Hit Dillon Gabriel Early and Often: QB’s dislike being clubbed. Don’t give him time to find his speedy receivers.
  5. Tackle: Can’t stress this enough. UCF is full of play-makers. Wrap up and bring the ball carrier down. No YAC!



When you think of Central Florida, the first thing that comes to mind is their speed.

“They haven’t lost a regular season game since 2016, so if you think we’re thinking about anything else except that, you’re crazy,” said Pitt HC Pat Narduzzi. “Again, 27 straight regular season games. They lost to LSU in a bowl game. They’re explosive, they’re fast, they’re going to snap the ball within 7 to 12 seconds, a lot of them under 10 seconds.”

Pitt’s vastly improved defense kept Virginia’s Bryce Perkins pretty much ordinary. They limited Penn State to 17 points, after the Lions had previously scored 79 and 45 in their previous games.

Now they face their toughest foe to date, a UCF team that has scored 31 or more points in 29 straight contests.

“Receivers, Gabriel Davis, Tre Nixon are really good,” said Narduzzi. “The Killins kid in the backfield is really good. They’re explosive, and there’s a reason they’ve won. They’re sitting in a hotbed of players down in the state of Florida. For all those voters out there, it’s no fluke.”

The Panthers will have to be ready for the challenge, play smart football, and make the tackle when defense meets offense. It will take a team effort as players will be rolling in and out of the game to keep fresh ahead of UCF’s uptempo offense, as coach mentioned with the Knights snapping the ball an average of 7-10 seconds after the conclusion of the play.

This week in practice, the Panthers have done all they can to mimic the Knight’s offense.

“We’re making it over tempo. Like to the point where it’s crazy and unrealistic,” said Panther LB Saleem Brightwell, who will start for the injured Elias Reynolds. “That way when you get to the game, they won’t be coming out as fast as we thought. … Shoutout to the scout team. They’re going fast, just like us. They’re in for every single play. We at least have subs.”

This is yet another huge game for Pitt to make a statement before it’s home crowd. They came out flat against Virginia before finding their rhythm to lead the Cavs at halftime. Then the Panther offense disappeared in the 2nd half. As you read above, that same trend occurred again vs Ohio and Penn State. Pitt, on both sides of the ball, will have to play a full game to take down a team that hasn’t lost in the regular season since 2016. Their only loss in the last two years was in the Fiesta Bowl last year against LSU 40-32.

Pitt plays their own style of an up tempo offense, but it would benefit them greatly if they were to get the running game going. That would allow Pitt to be balanced and give Kenny Pickett a few shots downfield to one of his receivers in one on one coverage. Pitt also needs to play a north-south game. UCF is too fast to try slow developing run plays to the outside, or those silly wide receiver screens. Go after the Knights aggressively and attack downfield.

Defensively, the front seven will have to be smart, fast, and make tackles. UCF QB Dillon Gabriel cannot be allowed to sit in the pocket and sling the ball around.

As they did in their first three games, the Panther defense will need to make the opposing quarterback’s life miserable, especially with a few punishing hits. Everyone on defense needs to be in swarm mode and gang tackle when they identify the ball carrier.

This team is improving game by game, and now they have a chance to make the pain of the Virginia and Penn State losses a distant memory. A big win here would be a huge boost in confidence, and would set the Panthers up for another run at the ACC Coastal Title.

Not only is UCF’s winning streak coming to an end this Saturday, so will their points scoring streak. Pitt pulls the upset at home and shocks UCF….

Pitt 31 UCF 27



Game Information

Pitt Panthers at #15 UCF Knights

  • Venue: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA. | Field: Kentucky Bluegrass
  • Game-time: Saturday, September 21st, at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Game Tickets Link
  • TV: ABC-TV/ESPN2 (WTAE-TV, Channel 4, in Pittsburgh) | Announcers: Jason Benetti (play-by-play) Rod Gilmore (analyst) | Quint Kessenich (reporter)
  • Local Radio: Pittsburgh- 93.7 The Fan | Announcers: Bill Hillgrove (play-by-play) Pat Bostick (analyst) | Larry Richert (reporter)
  • Online Radio: 937thefan.radio.com
  • Sirius XM Satellite Radio:Sirius Channel 111, XM Channel 194, Internet Channel 956
  • Weather at Kickoff: 81 and sunny. Winds S 8 mph.
  • Vegas Line: UCF -12.5



Pitt Panthers vs UCF Knights History

Series History: Began in 2006

  • Pitt is 1-1 overall vs UCF
  • At Home: 0-0
  • On Road: 1-1
  • Neutral Site: 0-0
  • ACC Series: N/A
  • Streak: UCF won last meeting.
  • Last Regular Season Meeting: Sept. 29, 2018 (UCF 45, Pitt 14)


Did You Know?* 

  • For the second consecutive week, Pitt will square off against a nationally ranked opponent. Following a hard-fought 17-10 loss at Penn State, the Panthers will host 3-0 UCF, ranked as high as No. 15 in this week’s polls.
  • Pitt and UCF have split two prior meetings. The Knights triumphed last year, 45-14, while the Panthers claimed a 52-7 win in 2006. Both of those contests took place in Orlando. The 2019 encounter marks the first played in Pittsburgh.
  • Seventeen players on Pitt’s roster are Florida natives. That number is second only to the Panthers’ 40 players who hail from Pennsylvania.
  • Junior quarterback Kenny Pickett was prolific against Penn State’s highly regarded defense, throwing for 372 yards on 35-of-51 passing. It was his second consecutive 300-yard passing game (321 vs. Ohio, Sept. 7).
  • In his last two games, Pickett has completed 69% of his passes (61 of 88) for 693 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions.
  • Despite losing two defensive line starters to injury (end Rashad Weaver and tackle Keyshon Camp), the Panthers have displayed a potent pass rush, collecting 12 sacks thus far.

    *Courtesy of pittsburghpanthers.com



A look at the Pitt Panthers!


Scouting the Panthers

OFFENSE (Pro Style)



Kenny Pickett*

Tough kid, good arm, accurate when not under heavy pressure. Utilizes his legs well and scrambles for extra yards.

  • Passing Yards: 878
  • TD Passes: 2
  • Interceptions: 2
  • Sacks: 8
  • Yards Rushing: 2
  • Rushing TD’s: 0



Running Backs

A.J. Davis*

Talented ball carrier who looks to make his mark in the 2019 season.

  • Yards Rushing: 119
  • Rushing TD’s: 1
  • Receptions: 10
  • Yards Receiving: 166
  • Receiving TD’s: 0


Vincent Davis

The ultra quick Vincent Davis looks to utilize his speed  and agility to be a game-breaker for the Panthers.

  • Yards Rushing: 62
  • Rushing TD’s: 2
  • Receptions: 0
  • Yards Receiving: 0
  • Receiving TD’s: 0


Todd Sibley, Jr.

Like his fellow back Davis, yearning for a breakout season toting the rock for the Panthers.

  • Yards Rushing: 26
  • Rushing TD’s: 1
  • Receptions: 1
  • Yards Receiving: 2
  • Receiving TD’s: 0


Wide Receivers

Maurice Ffrench*

One of the best returners in the game. Looking to take his receiving game to the next level.

  • Receptions: 24
  • Receiving Yards: 235
  • Receiving TD’s: 1


Taysir Mack*

Runs great routes and makes the big catches in traffic.

  • Receptions: 21
  • Receiving Yards: 215
  • Receiving TD’s: 0


Tre Tipton*

Enters this season looking to have a breakout season for the Panthers.

  • Receptions: 7
  • Receiving Yards: 81
  • Receiving TD’s: 1


Aaron Matthews

Great blocker who would like to incorporate a few catches intro his arsenal.

  • Receptions: 4
  • Receiving Yards: 47
  • Receiving TD’s: 0


V’lique Carter

Versatile player who also moonlights as a RB and at cornerback. Special athlete.

  • Receptions: 1
  • Receiving Yards: 3
  • Receiving TD’s: 0
  • Yards Rushing: 29
  • Rushing TD’s: 0


Dontavius Butler-Jenkins

Versatile player who also moonlights as a RB and at cornerback. Special athlete.

  • Receptions: 1
  • Receiving Yards: 27
  • Receiving TD’s: 0


Shocky Jaques-Louis

Has all the talent in the world. Will this be the year he displays all of it. Starts season not listed on the Two-Deep roster…

  • Receptions: 0
  • Receiving Yards: 0
  • Receiving TD’s: 0
  • Yards Rushing: 9
  • Rushing TD’s: 0



Tight Ends

Will Gragg

Hoping to bring the position out of the lost and found.

  • Receptions: 8
  • Receiving Yards: 41
  • Receiving TD’s: 0


Nakia Griffin-Stewart*

Physical player. A graduate transfer from Rutgers who will have one season of immediate eligibility at Pitt.

  • Receptions: 5
  • Receiving Yards: 61
  • Receiving TD’s: 0


Grant Carrigan

  • Receptions: 6
  • Receiving Yards: 78
  • Receiving TD’s: 0

*Denotes Starter


Left Tackle: Carter Warren

Left Guard: Bryce Hargrove

Center: Jimmy Morrissey

Right Guard: Gabe Houy

Right Tackle: Nolan Ulizio


DEFENSE (Base 3-4)

Defensive End: Patrick Jones II

Defensive Tackle: Jaylen Twyman

Defensive Tackle: Amir Watts/Devin Danielson

Defensive End: Deslin Alexandre

Money LB: Kylan Johnson

Mike LB: Saleem Brightwell/Elias Reynolds

Star LB: Cam Bright/Phil Campbell III

Cornerback: Dane Jackson

Strong Safety: Paris Ford

Free Safety: Damar Hamlin

Cornerback: Jason Pinnock/Damarri Mathis




Alex Kessman

Needs to find his confidence. Can’t miss field goals under 30 yards… period. 

  • Extra Points: 5-5
  • FG: 3-6
  • 0-19:  0-1 | 20-29:  2-2 | 30-39:  0-0 | 40-49:  1-2 | 50+:  0-1
  • Long: 41



Kirk Christodoulou

  • Yards per Punt: 44.6


Kickoff Returner

Maurice Ffrench

Ffrench averaged 27.4 yards per return last year with two touchdowns.

  • Yards per Kickoff Return: 26.0
  • Return TD’s: 0


Punt Returner

Maurice Ffrench

  • Yards per Kickoff Return: 3.3
  • Return TD’s: 0



Pitt Injury Report (9/19/19)

  • Out: DL Rashad Weaver (ACL), DE Keyshon Camp (Knee)
  • Doubtful: None
  • Questionable: None
  • Probable: None



A look at the Central Florida Knights!

Scouting the Knights

OFFENSE (Spread)


Dillon Gabriel*

Superb athlete that continues the run of very good quarterbacks for UCF. Gabriel fits the mold of the typical Pro Style QB. Doesn’t really run too often.

  • Passing Yards: 719
  • TD Passes: 9
  • Interceptions: 0
  • Sacks: 1
  • Yards Rushing: 28
  • Rushing TD’s: 1



Running Backs

Greg McRae*

UCF’s #1 weapon at RB. Recorded 17 plays of 20-yards or more, seven of which went for scores in 2018.

  • Yards Rushing: 258
  • Rushing TD’s: 3
  • Receptions: 1
  • Yards Receiving: 7
  • Receiving TD’s: 0


Bentavious Thompson

  • Yards Rushing: 193
  • Rushing TD’s: 1
  • Receptions: 1
  • Yards Receiving: 10
  • Receiving TD’s: 0


Adrian Killins, Jr.

His speed kills. A senior running back at UCF with a 4.39 forty and 10.53 hundred has a school record 25 career touchdowns. Blink and he’s gone.

  • Yards Rushing: 187
  • Rushing TD’s: 2
  • Receptions: 5
  • Yards Receiving: 102
  • Receiving TD’s: 1


Otis Anderson

Another very good back for UCF. Anderson has pretty good hands, so beware him out of the backfield.

  • Yards Rushing: 143
  • Rushing TD’s: 2
  • Receptions: 5
  • Yards Receiving: 50
  • Receiving TD’s: 1



Wide Receivers

Gabriel Davis*

UCF’s top receiving option. Recorded 53 receptions for 815 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

  • Receptions: 10
  • Receiving Yards: 229
  • Receiving TD’s: 3


Tre Nixon*

Caught 40 passes for 562 yards and four touchdowns in 2018.

  • Receptions: 11
  • Receiving Yards: 149
  • Receiving TD’s: 2


Marlon Williams*

Finished last season with 18 catches for 234 yards and one touchdown.

  • Receptions: 6
  • Receiving Yards: 107
  • Receiving TD’s: 1


Jacob Harris

  • Receptions: 3
  • Receiving Yards: 114
  • Receiving TD’s: 1


Ryan O’Keefe

  • Receptions: 2
  • Receiving Yards: 29
  • Receiving TD’s: 0



Tight Ends

Jake Hescock*

Josh Hescock

You’ll love this guy’s mustache.

  • Receptions: 5
  • Receiving Yards: 60
  • Receiving TD’s: 1

*Denotes Starter



DEFENSE (Base 4-3)

The Knights play well defensively with their great overall team speed. UCF is giving up just 13.7 points per game. So far, they are allowing 253 total yards a game, but they haven’t really faced a good offense yet. They will this week when the Pitt Panthers take the field..





Dylan Barnas

  • Extra Points: 19-20
  • FG: 3-4
  • 0-19:  0-0 | 20-29:  2-2 | 30-39:  0-1 | 40-49:  1-1 | 50+:  0-0
  • Long: 42



UCF Injury Report (9/19/19)

  • Out: None
  • Doubtful: None
  • Questionable: None
  • Probable: None




Total Yards per game 

  • Pitt: 380
  • UCF: 604.3

Passing Yards per game

  • Pitt: 292.7
  • UCF: 321.7

Rushing Yards per game

  • Pitt: 87.3
  • UCF: 282.7

Points per game

  • Pitt: 14.7
  • UCF: 51.7


Total Yards per game allowed

  • Pitt: 303.7
  • UCF: 253

Passing Yards per game allowed

  • Pitt: 193.3
  • UCF: 167.3

Rushing Yards per game allowed

  • Pitt: 110.3
  • UCF: 85.7

Points Allowed

  • Pitt: 19
  • UCF: 13.7


Defensive Stats


  • Sacks: 12
  • Interceptions: 0
  • Fumbles: 0


  • Sacks: 7
  • Interceptions: 2
  • Fumbles: 0



ACC Standings


Pitt Panthers 2019 Schedule

Regular Season: Overall: 1-2 |  ACC: 0-1

August 31: Virginia* (ACCN), L- 30-14
September 7: Ohio (ACCN), W- 20-10
September 14: at #13 Penn State, L- 17-10
September 21: #15 UCF, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
September 28: Delaware, 12:30 p.m. (AT&T SportsNET)
October 5: at Duke*, TBA
October 18: (Friday) at Syracuse* (ESPN), 7 p.m.
October 26: Miami* (HC), TBA
November 2: at Georgia Tech*, TBA
November 14: (Thursday) North Carolina* (ESPN), 8 p.m.
November 23: at Virginia Tech*, TBA
November 30: Boston College*, TBA

*ACC game | (HC) Homecoming | Bold = Home Game













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Mike DrakulichYour source for Pittsburgh sports!
From Midland, "The Basketball Capital of Pennsylvania", located 35 miles NW of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. This former steel town was home to storied athletes such as Dave Alston, Norm Van Lier, Simmie Hill, and the legendary 1965 Midland High School Basketball Team.

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