UCF-BYU: 3 matchups to watch in the Boca Raton Bowl
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
Bowl season is already upon us, which is weird considering the season just ended days earlier. An ever changing season will be followed by changes in bowl season, so sit tight until the actual game kicks off. One of the best games of the season features to high powered offenses in Boise, Idaho. BYU and UCF can put up points in a hurry, and this game has the potential to be the best of the bowl season. With so many players to watch, we break down three matchups you need to watch during this high profile contest.
Dillon Gabriel vs. Zach Wilson
Everyone knows Zach Wilson's name, but they'll get to know Gabriel's a little better after this one. Once a Heisman favorite, Wilson has put his skillset on full display all season, and quickly shot up NFL Draft analysts big boards. Wilson and the Cougars jumped out to a 9-0 start before their loss to Coastal Carolina, but his draft stock didn't take a hit. With over 3,400 yards and 38 total touchdowns, it's no surprise that Wilson is a must watch player. From his arm strength to his running ability, Wilson can do a little bit of everything. His counterpart has a similar skillset, but doesn't get as much recognition.
Dillon Gabriel needs 300 yards to beat his production from last year, and he'd do it in three less games. The UCF sophomore has been electric with the football, and he'll face a BYU defense that can shut down an opposing offense. One of the biggest criticisms of Gabriel is that he doesn't read coverages frequently and that most of his reads are deemed pre-determined. He has the arm talent to make those throws, though, and the Knights speed on the outside makes it so that he can make quick decisions. With the defense he'll face, he might need to work through his progressions more and utilize his legs as well. Hopefully, these two trade punches back and forth, and at the end everyone has as much respect for Gabriel as they do for Wilson.
Matt Lee vs. Khyiris Tonga
Halfway through the season, UCF fans were talking about if they needed to move on from Matt Lee. Penalties and bad snaps plagued the Knights center, and killed a number of drives for UCF early in the season. Something obviously clicked, because he ended the season as a first team All-AAC selection. His turnaround allowed the offense to get more rhythm in their games, and it's a reason UCF scored 40+ points in six of their nine games this season. He'll face his toughest matchup of the season when he faces Tonga.
Khyiris Tonga isn't going to fill up a stat sheet (3.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks), but he can make an impact in the opponents backfield with his skillset. At 6'4", 321 pounds, NFL teams will be fighting to draft him in the spring thanks to his size and speed up the middle. The Cougars are ninth in the country in total defense, and it starts with Tonga and the front seven. UCF likes to go fast, but plays by Tonga in the backfield could disrupt that tempo. Lee will have his hands full, but it feels like he's better equipped to handle this matchup now than he was earlier in the season.
UCF receivers vs. BYU secondary
Without Marlon Williams, many teams would see their production decrease, but not the UCF Knights. UCF's receivers are deep, maybe the deepest of anyone in the country, so they should step up in Williams' absence. Jalon Robinson needs 65 yards to eclipse 1,000 for the season, and has been largely overshadowed because of Williams' dominance. Deep threat Jacob Harris is second on the team in touchdowns and is averaging 18.2 yards per reception. Ryan O'Keefe and his speed have flashed at times too, leading to an average of 20.2 yards per catch. Then, there's Tre Nixon. The Knights senior was injured in the first game of the season and just recently returned. At his healthiest, Nixon is one of the toughest receivers to cover thanks to his quickness and quick cuts. So it appears that the Knights don't have much to worry about even without their best receiver. How they do against this BYU secondary is the big question.
The Cougars are 24th in passing defense, 17th if you take out teams who have played less than eight games, and eighth if you take out teams who have played less than 10 games. A lot of the attention has been on Troy Warner, brother of current NFL linebacker Fred Warner. Troy has made a big impact on the Cougars defense, including making a number of plays that remind fans of his brother. Warner and the rest of the secondary are good, but they face a UCF team that's second in total and passing offense. The Knights average 585.6 yards per game, including 373 through the air. One of these two has to give, and it's going to be an entertaining matchup anytime Dillon Gabriel drops back to pass.