Some disgruntled Central Florida fans on a message board a couple of weeks ago wanted Josh Heupel fired, in part, because they were inexplicably dissatisfied with their head coach’s offense.
“He does not have a playbook, maybe a pamphlet or just a page is what I can glean from what I am seeing,” wrote one fan.
“Truly feels like we have just eight plays,” wrote another fan.
“The coach needs to go,” wrote another.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I never, ever listen to fans, which is short for fanatics, which is a synonym for wackos.
UCF 51, Tulane 34.
The Knights compiled 689 yards of total offense on Saturday, quarterback Dillon Gabriel – a Mililani (Oahu) alum – threw for 422 yards and five touchdowns, running back Greg McCrae ran 25 times for 162 yards and wide receiver Marlon Williams caught nine passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns.
Hey, disgruntled fans, ask Tulane’s defense about Josh Heupel’s playbook.
Ask any opposing defensive coordinator in college football about Josh Heupel’s playbook.
Yes, UCF’s season thus far has been a major disappointment because of a young, porous defense but at least Knights fans can turn on the TV every Saturday and be entertained by one of the most astute offensive minds in the game, one of the best quarterbacks in the country and inarguably the most explosive, entertaining offense in the nation.
Maybe even in history.
If you’re scoring at home, Gabriel leads the nation in passing, Williams leads the nation in receiving and UCF’s offense is now averaging a national-best 646.8 yards per game. If the Knights keep up this pace, they will shatter the all-time record for total offense in a season set by the 1989 Houston Cougars, who averaged 624.9 yards per game.
In three years at UCF, Heupel has a 26-6 record at UCF and his offense has been ranked No. 5, No. 2 and now No. 1 in the country. And before he took the UCF job, Heupel was the offensive coordinator at Missouri under former head coach Barry Odom.
When Heupel arrived at Mizzou in 2016, he took over an offense ranked 124th in the country the previous season. In the first year of Heupel’s fast-break, no-huddle offense, the Tigers were ranked 13th in the nation and improved to eighth the following year in the big, bad SEC. When Heupel left, the Missouri offense went back to its formerly pathetic self.
Anybody who questions Heupel’s offensive imagination and acumen is just plain idiotic. The man is an offensive genius. Or as the great Steve Spurrier once playfully reprimanded a sports writer back in his heyday, “Don’t call me a genius; call me a mastermind.”
The Knights came into Saturday not only leading the nation in total offense, but no other team in college football was within 40 yards of their average. For comparison’s sake, Alabama has the most explosive offenses of the Nick Saban era, and UCF is averaging about 80 yards per game more than the Crimson Tide.
“We’ve got a lot of great players and that makes it a whole lot easier to call offensive plays,” Heupel said. “This offensive skill group is athletic and understands what they’re doing. We’ve got great trust in every single one of them. We’ve also got five guys up front (on the offensive line) who fight and compete. … And being in Year 2, you’ve seen the growth that Dillon has had as a quarterback.”
In fact, Gabriel has been nothing short of brilliant with his fourth 400-yard passing performance Saturday in five games this season. His touch on the long ball and his improvisational skills are uncanny, evidenced by a perfectly placed scramble-drill 54-yard TD bomb to Williams in the first quarter.
Remember last year when LSU’s Joe Burrow had arguably the greatest season for a quarterback in the history of college football with 6,040 yards of total offense? That’s an average of 403 yards of total offense per game. Thus far this season, Gabriel is averaging 461 yards of total offense, nearly 60 yard per game more than Burrow averaged last season.
It’s certainly understandable that UCF fans are disappointed with the two losses this year to Tulsa and Memphis, but it could be worse. Fans could be sitting through game after game of boring, snoring, tedious, tiresome football: remember former coach George O’Leary’s offenses? And think about those poor USF fans having to endure one of the most painful-to-watch offenses in the country. Or Gator fans for all those years before Dan Mullen arrived, suffering through a decade’s worth of mundane offense that rarely even ranked among the top 100 in the country.
In the grand scheme of things, college football is nothing more than another entertainment option just like “The Bachelorette” or the hot new show on Netflix. Certainly, you want your team to win first and foremost, but, secondly, you want them to be compelling.
There is no debating that UCF’s offense is historically and euphorically one of the most exciting in all of college football.
Bianchi writes for the Orlando Sentinel