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Film Room: Fiesta Bowl Preview Pt. 1

Diving into the UCF offense.

NCAA Football: AAC Championship-Memphis at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

I feel weird about this game. I actually like UCF and I don’t want to be the team that ends their long winning streak. We need teams like UCF to help us take down the P5 stranglehold on this sport. The more UCF wins the more chance we have of an expanded playoff, which I am all for. I love college football and if an expanded playoff means more college football games between elite teams then sign me up.




Alas, in spite of this, we are going to have to kick the shit out of them. Tough love, I guess.

Josh Heupel took over UCF from Scott Frost this offseason and kept the offense humming along. They finished fifth in Offensive S&P+. This was actually down from second last year but there wasn’t much slippage.

Heupel brought his super spread vertical passing attack to Orlando. I’m a big fan of this offense. He made Drew Lock look like a Heisman contender in 2017 mostly by creating one-on-one match-ups and throwing the ball down the field.

The Heupel offense (look it’s the Baylor offense but screw those guys) is built on spreading the field to it’s horizontal limit via formations. It’s a two-back offense with a tailback and an h-back and three receivers on the field.

By not being fully “spread” personnel team (4 receivers or 3+ a useful receiving tight end) they are asking you to make a choice. If you play with two safeties, we will have a numbers advantage in the box with some nice power runs.

By putting their receivers almost on the sideline, if you play with one safety, they will get single match-ups because the safety will have too much ground to cover. They have no qualms about throwing down the field. It’s just what they do. They run a ton of vertical option routes. Basically, they are telling their receivers to stem down the field vertically and then run into empty space. It works.

The added element that Heupel has this year is that his quarterbacks can move. Lock had 33 carries last season (+13 from the backup), UCF quarterbacks had 123 this year.

They’ll use the QB on designed QB draws and have him read defensive ends, often within a power read/inverted veer scheme.

They also play really fast. This is the No. 1 offense in adjusted tempo. Heupel has no problem calling the same play over and over again (if this reminds of you someone LSU has played against in recent years, you’ll have to wait for part two to see if you’re right)

Check this out.

They bring a 6th o-lineman and line up with the receivers split out wide and the tight end to the left. With a lot of big dudes inside so Memphis plays 1-high. UCF throws a vertical option route to the left receiver. The top receiver is not even running a route.

The next play, they line up the same way but bring in a different receiver off the bench to run the option route on the bottom. You can see the cornerback jogging to get back into position right as the ball is snapped.

On the very next play, with the ball now on left hash, they run the exact same formation but bring in a new receiver to run the same flipping route.

That’s how you get really good at individual concepts. They just don’t run a lot of different things.

As a sidenote, there is not progression here even though the quarterback looks right before coming back to his left. He is going to the left receiver every time but just wants to hold the safety for a second.

The run game is similar in that they don’t too much. They like to run Iso and have nice counter where the h-back makes it look like he’s gonna split block but then comes back underneath the kick-out by the guard and pulls through.

They also RPO the heck out of you with slants and hitch routes. They’ll run both the three-step slant RPO and even a deeper five-step slant RPO.

They trot out a ton of speed, especially at running back. Here’s Greg McRae on fourth and one scoring a 50-yard touchdown. McRae is the backup and he has 9 yards per carry this year.

At receiver, they are average. Corey Coleman, Terrance Williams nor Josh Gordon are not lining up on the outside.

The big news is that UCF’s starting quarterback is out with a severe leg fracture. Mackenzie Milton was a real nifty player and I would have loved to watch him play against the LSU defense.

The man replacing star quarterback Mackenzie Milton is freshman Darriel Mack. Mack came off the bench and finished 5-for-14 against Cincinnati after the starter went down but responded with a 19-for-27 game (with 348 yards) after being prepped as the starter in the AAC championship versus Memphis.

In the first meeting against Memphis in the regular season, the UCF passing attack, led by Milton, finished with a 39-percent success rate (efficiency) and with 1.78 IsoPPP (explosiveness). With Mack leading the charges, UCF posted a 62-percent success rate and a 1.70 IsoPPP in the second meeting. That’s a pretty nice bump up in efficiency. Of course, it’s just one game and his off the bench stats against Cincy were pretty horrid.

Watching the AAC Championship game, the thing that stuck out to me the most was how Mack just stands around in the pocket. He takes his drop-back and then just stands there like a sitting duck. The Heupel offense doesn’t have a ton of progression reads so he doesn’t have to tie his feet to his reads necessarily but it’s still odd to see.

He’s a very big kid (6-3, 230 whoa) who finished with 6.8 yards per carry. He has some moves and it’ll be tough to take him down sometimes. He’s also fumbled four times this year.

If this was another iteration of the Aranda defense (either ‘16 or ‘17) I would not like his chances against our pass rush. The 2018 LSU defense doesn’t really get to the quarterback very often. The Tigers defense were 83rd in sack rate while UCF offense was 20th in sack rate this season. Mack, on much fewer dropbacks, took a sack 6.7 percent of the time, Milton was at 3 percent. I am more than willing to give K’Lavon Chaisson my good knee if he needs it.

With that said, I don’t know how good of a quarterback he is. He doesn’t have a lot of reps where he’s not just picking a receiver and throwing it down the field. I found this play where he couldn’t make a timely decision:

When his inside receiver attracts the attention of the safety, he should be throwing the outside post. He’s late on the throw and throws behind him.

This is an offense that makes quarterbacks look really good and defensive coordinators really foolish. They bludgeon you to death with the same core concepts and rarely even put window dressing on them. It’s speed, speed, speed. LSU will have its hands full in Phoenix.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in our preview of UCF’s offense where we will look at how Aranda will defend the Golden Knights