Pitt defensive coordinator Randy Bates has enough problems this week, drilling his players on how and where to line up against the perpetual-motion Central Florida offense.
But he does have one request of the officials assigned to Saturday’s game at Heinz Field.
“You would hope sometimes the officials would keep up with (Central Florida’s tempo),” he said, “because there are guys moving all over the place right before the snap sometimes. Officials can’t keep up with it.
“It’s phenomenal how fast they go. They’re averaging 97 snaps a game.”
To put that in perspective, Pitt’s three opponents have averaged 65.6 snaps. That computes to almost eight more snaps per quarter. Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said UCF exhausts only “7 to 12 seconds” between snaps. “A lot of them under 10 seconds,” he said.
“It’s an impressive thing how they do it,” Bates said.
UCF’s speed made a distinct difference in the Knights’ 45-27 victory last Saturday against Stanford, Bates said. It was only the second time the schools have met, the other being a 31-7 Stanford victory in 2015 (Central Florida’s 0-12 season).
Even with freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel running the show, UCF led 38-7 at halftime and finished the game with 545 yards of total offense.
Bates said Stanford’s current players didn’t appear to be accustomed to the speed of Central Florida’s offense.
“When you watch the game, you see them not realizing how fast it was,” he said.
Pitt might have an advantage because the Panthers played Central Florida last year and lost 45-14.
“We have a little bit of an idea how it works,” Bates said.
But does that really help?
Central Florida has scored 31 or more points in 29 consecutive games, many of those repeated games against American Athletic Conference opponents who see the Knights every year.
Memphis lost to Central Florida, 31-30, last year during the regular season. But in the rematch in the AAC championship game less than two months later, Memphis lost, 56-41. And Memphis has played UCF four times in three seasons (surrendering 189 points).
Asked if he plans changes from what Pitt showed Central Florida last year, Bates coyly said, “Yes.” Then, he paused. “We’re getting prepared differently,” he said. “Let’s put it that way.”
Bates said he plans a regular rotation of players and their substitutes in all 11 positions.
“More guys have to play and be ready to play,” he said.
Bates believes the first three games prepared the Panthers (1-2) for the challenges that await them. After Central Florida and Delaware, Pitt plays seven consecutive conference games as it defends its ACC Coastal championship.
“I’m as confident as I can be,” Bates said. “They’ve all played now, and they all got experience under their belt.”
Bates has replaced eight starters from last year’s defense, including six who exhausted their eligibility and two — defensive linemen Rashad Weaver and Keyshon Camp — who suffered season-ending injuries.
Bates believes Pitt has more speed on defense, and for evidence he can point to his team’s 12 sacks (tied for seventh among Power 5 teams). Sophomore defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman is fifth in the nation with 4½, tied with Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham Jr. for the ACC lead.
Bates uses Twyman in a variety of ways, including straight bull rushes where he sometimes takes on two blockers. Bates also deploys twists to get Twyman in space and even drops him into pass coverage.
“He’s a bright, young man and also a football mind,” Bates said. “All those things make it really easy to change him up a lot.”
Said Twyman: “I’m definitely happy with it. They’re letting me play football. It gives me a chance to make a play because the offense doesn’t know where I’m going to be.”