More than halfway to October, the 2020 season opener has arrived for No. 14 UCF.
The Knights take the field in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon against a confident Georgia Tech team playing its home opener.
The Knights seek their 36th win in 40 games and fifth straight win in a season opener. But they have never beaten the Yellow Jackets, with all three Tech wins in the all-time series coming in Atlanta.
UCF hopes its offense will produce like it has in recent seasons, with the Knights having scored 30 or more points in all but one game since the start of the 2017 campaign.
Knights coach Josh Heupel wants his players to enjoy the opportunity to hit the field together, reminding them not to take it for granted given all of the uncertainty with COVID-19.
“We’ve talked the last two weeks about focusing in on our preparation, and really understanding the nuances and the details of what we’re doing,” Heupel said, “and then be ready to adjust as we get into game day.”
After playing in all 13 games and starting 12 a year ago as a true freshman, quarterback Dillon Gabriel is back for his sophomore season at the helm for UCF. Gabriel set UCF’s freshman record for passing yards in a season in 2019 with 3,653.
Georgia Tech (1-0) is coming off a confidence-boosting 16-13 win over Florida State in Tallahassee last Saturday. The Yellow Jackets, picked to finish last in the ACC in a preseason league poll, got two sacks and two forced fumbles from defensive end Curtis Ryans and a big day from freshman quarterback Jeff Sims.
Sims became the first freshman quarterback to win a season opener for Georgia Tech, and the first freshman to start there since Reggie Ball in 2003. He threw for 277 yards and a touchdown and ran for a team-high 64 yards, and his 24 completions were the most by a Yellow Jackets signal-caller since 2003.
Despite having two field goals and an extra point blocked in the game, freshman kicker Jude Kelley booted the game-winning 32-yarder in the fourth quarter for Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets defense held the Seminoles to three second-half points in a game that had an hour and 45 minutes of weather delays.
“Our offense was clicking right from the jump,” head coach Geoff Collins said on the ACC Network on Monday. “The comfort level that Jeff had playing behind those guys (the offensive line) … that helped Jeff feel very confident going out there knowing that he didn’t have to do anything special. Just execute the calls and trust the guys around him that they’d have his back, and they did.”
Collins was an assistant at UCF in 2008 and 2009.
“They’re going to come in here highly ranked and well deserved,” he said. “But we’ve just got to focus on who we are and our development every single day.”