No. 13 UCF expects stern test against Pittsburgh
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) No. 13 UCF expects a stern test against Pittsburgh, which has had a knack for upsetting teams with hopes of making the College Football Playoff.
The Panthers surprised eventual national champion Clemson on the road two years ago. They ended a disappointing 2017 season by knocking off unbeaten Miami, which had the longest winning streak in the country and was in contention for a CFP berth.
"Going in there and stunning a team, I've done it in my career before in college and high school," sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett said. "There's no better feeling than going in and beating someone that no one expects you to beat."
Pitt (2-2) has another chance to play spoiler when the Panthers visit UCF (3-0) on Saturday.
The Knights have the nation's longest winning streak at 17 games and are trying to stay on course to be considered for a spot in this season's CFP.
When UCF coach Josh Heupel says facing Pitt's defense is a big challenge for a prolific offense averaging 50 points and nearly 588 yards per game, he means "extremely big."
"They're thick, strong and physical upfront. ... The biggest defensive front we've seen so far," Heupel said.
"On the backend, they're going to contest things," the coach added. "They'll load it up and make it difficult to run the football. You gotta win one-on-ones on the outside."
Pitt has allowed 13 points per game in victories over Albany and Georgia Tech. The Panthers yielded 51 in a 45-point loss to Penn State and 38 in a three-point setback at North Carolina, where they let a halftime lead slip away last week.
UCF is coming off a 56-36 rout of Florida Atlantic, with McKenzie Milton throwing for three touchdowns and running for three more.
The Knights scored TDs on eight of 12 possessions against FAU. One of the ways Pitt will try to slow them down is keep Milton and UCF's playmakers on the sideline for long stretches by running the ball.
Running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall each are averaging over 6 yards per carry, however Narduzzi said the Panthers will have to be able to throw the ball, too, to give themselves a better chance.
"The thing we don't want to do is handcuff our offense to the point where, hey, we'll run it three downs in a row, see if we can eat up the clock and don't run out of bounds," Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. "Nobody wants to coach that way, nobody wants to play that way offensively."
Some other things to know about Pitt and UCF, which are meeting for just the second time:
With Pickett experiencing growing pains as a passer in his first season as a starter, Ollison and Hall have proven to be a solid one-two running punch. Ollison is fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in yards rushing and Hall is coming off a season-best 84 yards against North Carolina.
Heupel is in his first season at UCF, the defending American Athletic Conference champion. The Knights packed their 44,000-seat stadium for last week's nationally-televised game against FAU, and the former Missouri offensive coordinator has been impressed by fan support for his program.
"You know coming here. I thought I knew what this place could be. The expectations and the capability of what this place can be is greater than what I thought," Heupel said.
"People are passionate about it," he added. "We've got a great brand. ... This is a unique opportunity in college football because of what the upward trend is."
Pitt's offense has struggled to start what it finishes. The Panthers have managed just 10 points after halftime through four games, one of the main reasons they are ranked 102nd in the country in scoring. Narduzzi points to a series of problems, from lack of good field position to penalties that blunt any sense of momentum.
"It's been ourselves shooting ourselves in the foot," center Jimmy Morrissey said. "It's more focusing on the details, being mentally tough, not getting exhausted."
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Updated September 28, 2018