ATLANTA, GA — Thanks to passing for a career-best 417 passing yards and four touchdowns in leading No.14 UCF to a 49-21 win over Georgia Tech, sophomore quarterback Dillion Gabriel put himself into early Heisman Trophy consideration.
Gabriel, a 6’0, 185-pound southpaw from Mililani, Hawaii, picked up right where he left off after his brilliant freshman year in leading the Knights up-tempo, high-octane offense in Atlanta vs. a quality Power Five opponent in the Yellow Jackets.
One year after bursting onto the national scene in passing for 3,653 yards, 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a true freshman in replacing former Notre Dame transfer QB Brandon Wimbush in starting the Knight’s final 12 games under center in 2019.
Per UCF’s official athletics site, Gabriel led the UCF offense that ranked second nationally in total offense (540.5), fifth in scoring (43.4) and eighth in passing (316.7) and ranked fourth nationally in passing yards per completion (15.48), 13th in passing efficiency (156.9), 13th in passing yards (3,653) and 17th in passing touchdowns (29).
While another Hawaiian-born left-hander from the islands was slinging the pigskin around up in Tuscaloosa in former Alabama Crimson Tide QB Tua Tagovailoa, Gabriel was the other Samoan southpaw balling down in Orlando.
With Tagovailoa finishing 10th in Heisman voting in 2019, could Gabriel potentially become the second native-born Hawaiian to win the Heisman, and the first since former Oregon Ducks QB Marcus Mariota back in 2014?
While many see Clemson Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence as the odds-on favorite in what is expected to be a top-heavy and competitive race that features QB Justin Fields (Ohio State), RB Travis Etienne (Clemson), QB Sam Ehlinger (Texas) and QB Kyle Trask (Florida), Gabriel is a long shot at best in 2020, but could be a contender in 2021.
Thanks to COVID-19 forcing teams and conference-only schedules, while UCF was able to retain it’s game vs. Georgia Tech, the Knights were forced to drop their matchup vs. visiting North Carolina and their Heisman dark horse longshot QB in Sam Howell.
Couple that in addition to the long-held bias of UCF playing in the American and a lack of quality Power Five opponents, Gabriel’s early Heisman hopes in ’20 were handicapped from the start. While the Knights upcoming game vs. Cincinnati in November could provide a possible boost, the Heisman could already be wrapped up.
They say that style points matter, in both securing a spot in the CFP playoffs and in Heisman voting. If Gabriel hopes to keep his name in the conversation, UCF needs to do a better job of protecting him against the rush, and Gabriel needs to improve in handling pressure when the line collapses.
For all of the weapons at his disposal, Georgia Tech was in the game, when they were trailing 28-21, as the Knights offense looked stagnate, before UCF rattled off the final 21 points to secure the win.
If Gabriel can improve on handling pressure better and continue to put up solid numbers, there is no reason for his name to at least be in the conversation this season before making the next jump to a contender in 2021.
Image and additional stats courtesy of UCF Athletics