Josh Heupel failed to let DJ Mack get into a rhythm vs. LSU in the 2h and didn’t get his best personnel groupings on the field enough, but UCF still failed to execute on numerous opportunities

UCF’s offense failed to establish any sort of rhythm or have any sort of success in their loss to LSU in the Fiesta bowl.

In the first half, outside of the first offensive drive of the game, the game-flow was pretty ugly from a UCF perspective and in my opinion that contributed a lot to UCF’s offensive struggles outside of the two scoring drives.

The pick 6 was almost the worst thing that could have happened for the offense and then Mack fumbled on the the next drive after UCF had got to around midfield.

However, UCF was only down 3 at halftime and got the ball to start the half and that is really all I want to look at for this game.

My main thought is, Heupel didn’t get his best and most efficient personnel groupings on the field enough, but UCF had plenty of opportunities on every drive, but one in the 2h. It seemed as if every time someone was open downfield, Mack either missed ’em or there was a dropped pass. There’s no excuses for a drop, they happen, unless your Deandre Hopkins. But, I do feel a lot of Mack’s misses were because the play calling in the 2h failed to let him establish any sort of rhythm.

I’ll explain it all:


I’ve said this since around May, getting 2 running backs on the field was going to be UCF’s best offensive personnel. In most cases, Otis Anderson and then one of the other 3 guys as well.

It’s something I kept track of after every game, and for the most part UCF was almost always better out of “20” and “21” personnel than “11” personnel despite running “11” personnel significantly more.

In games where UCF is just the clear better team (every game outside of the Fiesta bowl) it doesn’t exactly matter because UCF is always going to have the matchup advantage no matter what.

Well, when you play a team who is equally or slightly more talented then you, the little things matter that much more.

UCF ran “11” personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR’s) on 42 of their 62 snaps (67.74%). They only had 8 successful plays, good for a 19.05% success rate. That is the worst success rate on that sample size of plays I have ever seen.

Out of “12”, “20”, and “21” personnel combined, UCF ran 20 plays and they were successful on 2 more than they were out of “11” personnel despite running 22 less plays !! On the first drive of the game, UCF had 2 RB’s in on I believe every play.

They also had 2 RB’s in for most plays on their final TD drive.

On the first drive of the 2h, UCF went “20” personnel. Look what it did to the defense.

Look how much space opened up here. 2 of the 4 LB’s are now outside the box and you’re essentially a hat on a hat with the weakside end having to account for Mack.

The following play, there are about two lineman who didn’t actually block anyone, but the concept is still the same. The two LB’s actually moved much closer to the ball and if Milton was in, he probably would’ve checked to a quick slant to Snelson. I mean just look how much space he has to the middle of the field and the safety is about 11 yards off the LOS.


Obviously pressure is a lot of what people want to talk about it from this one and I forgot to mention a nugget above so I’ll jump into it now.

One thing I want to say is, I actually think Delpit and Alexander getting ejected was low key a good thing for LSU.

Dave Aranda is the best DC in the country and it’s probably not even really that close in my opinion. He made an adjustment.

Heading into this game, LSU only blitzed on 17.76% of drop-backs. Their sack rate doubles on blitzes compared to non-blitz and their pressure rate jumps up to 42% from 20%.

Aranda knew the only way of slowing down UCF’s WR’s against his depleted secondary, was to get pressure, and get it often.

Before Delpit was ejected (Alexander was already gone), Aranda only blitzed on 1 of 6 pass attempts (16.67%) right around what he has done all season.

After the Delpit ejection, Aranda blitzed on 9 of 30 (30%) designed pass attempts.

On the 10 blitzes, LSU recorded 6 pressures, all resulting in sacks. 7 more pressures occurred on plays where LSU didn’t blitz, good for 13 total pressures on 36 total pass attempts, a 36.11% pressure rate. That’s 12% higher than their 24% pressure rate throughout the season.

Now, what I wanted to mention before, 11 of the 13 pressures came while UCF was in “11” personnel. So despite having more offensive success and blocking better in other personnel groupings, Heupel continued to roll with a 1 TE, 1RB, 3 WR look.

It’s pretty safe to say DJ Mack wasn’t very good under pressure and the adjustment Aranda made to bring pressure almost double than what he normally does, paid it’s dividends as in my opinion, Heupel never made an adjustment of his own.

Run Game:

This was definitely a bright spot for UCF. I said they would be able to have rushing success and they were definitely able too.

Would have loved to see a lot more Taj as I mentioned before the game and Otis, on his limited carries, showed why he’s a RB that can run with the “big boys”. He was UCF’s best running back against Auburn last season and he was a beast against LSU. Yeah, it was only on 3 carries, but he had multiple yards after contact on every rush.

McCrae was also fun to watch again. He had a couple of really big runs. Him and Otis looked really, really good. It’s going to be fun to watch this kid get a full season as the back getting the most carries next year.

The Second Half:

My thoughts without data behind it… UCF had opportunity after opportunity in the 2h. The 3 outs may not show it, but if you look at every drive, except for the 5th drive I believe it was, UCF just didn’t make plays that were there.

Now, I attribute some of this to play calling and not letting Mack establish a rhythm. I’m going to go drive, by drive, play by play, in a second to explain myself.

Point is, on the first two drives, UCF went run-run-pass-punt. If you’ve ever played sports you’ll understand the really bad analogy I’m going to attempt to make.

Essentially, Mack was given one throw on those drives to be perfect. It was either 0% or 100%. Without any room for error. Now, he was going extremely long, body time, without getting any passings reps between halftime and the time LSU had the ball, to only one pass on each drive.

You ever play basketball, sit on the bench for 10 minutes, come in for 2 and get one shot up, you’re just not in rhythm have no real feel for the game/your shot compared to guys who are getting multiple shots up throughout the course of the quarter. You have room for error and the percentages always level out, for the most part.

Take a baseball pitcher, they have a quick 1-2-3 inning and then their team is at bat for 30 minutes (a long inning), when you come back out on the mound, more often then not, your performance dips.

A golfer who has to wait on groups in front of him to hit and play slow, is not as good as when he’s playing at his own pace.

That’s my attempt at analogy, point is, it’s almost impossible to perform at the best of your ability, when you’re not in any rhythm.

One thing, I mentioned after one of UCF’s blowouts early in the season, was using the pass to set up the run. This offense is so much more effective and better when they get a first down on a drive and the run game becomes more explosive when this happens.

If you look at the play of drive chart for this game, you’ll say well your point is invalid for this game.

If you take the 2h only, UCF only had one successful run on the first POD, the first play of the half, they followed it up with an unsuccessful run, almost negating the first down play.

Now, you’ll say well pass attempts only went 1 for 5. Let’s look at those pass attempts… they included, 2 completions, 2 drops, both which would have probably been TD’s, and one missed open WR. Essentially all 5 pass plays worked, UCF just failed to execute.

Pressure definitely had to do with Mack’s inability to get in a rhythm, but I also think the run-run approach to start the half was not good for it.

2h Drive by Drive:

I would’ve ended up diving into this above so let’s just jump into it now.

The first drive, Heupel came out in “20” personnel. Big fan, great idea. I showed you the run-run in gifs above. It set up a 3rd and 2:

Again only 6 in the box, using your speed and skill to spread out the defense. Great protection, even without the tight end on the field. It’s an 11 yard slant (the ball was actually on the 33 despite the line being on the 32) A ton of space, Otis won the middle of the field, had a mis-match. Great play call IMO, UCF should have done this over and over.

Well it didn’t work:

Well when you beat the guy on a slant route and force cover guy to run a dig to make up ground, it’s going to lead to getting mauled before the ball was even in the picture.

Will never blame refs, but this was an obvious call on a play where the DB knew he was beat. This drive should have continued and I believe UCF would have scored on it. Based off their success with 2 RB’s on the field (Heupel tends to keep the same personnel throughout the drive) and they would have had a little momentum.

2nd Drive:

Again, run-run. This time neither successful. So on the 4 runs on first and second down, on the first two drives, UCF had a 25% success rate and ran for 3 ypc.

3rd Down:

3rd and 6, obvious passing down. LSU only rushes 4, Mack has plenty of time. Snelson runs a 15 yard post, Mack just misses him. He was open, he even had a chance to catch it, but it wasn’t a great throw.

Back to the point of asking Mack to be 100% by only giving him one chance to throw. This play was there all game. Another missed opportunity to keep the drive for continuing.

So on the first two drives, UCF should have had a first down around midfield, instead, two three and outs. This has nothing to do with LSU’s defense “dominating”.

3rd Drive:

A throw on first down, not in “11” personnel, holy cow who would’ve known it would work out.

Putting out “12” personnel made LSU think run. Passing out of a run formation is always a good idea. You’ll see the right safety was only 6 yards off the LOS and takes two steps forward on the play action. It left Davis one on one with LSU’s least experienced corner who has no shot against Gabe. Gabe catches this 99/100 times and it’s impossible to be upset at him for dropping it because he’s so damn good.

Because a play out of “12” personnel worked so well, Heupel had to go back to “11” personnel the next two plays because he felt bad for LSU’s defense.

2nd Down was a play action fake with Colubiale coming across the formation and running a flat route for a 2 yard dump off with 3 yards after the catch.

3rd down, Mack was sacked.

Another drive, UCF should have put up points, they just didn’t execute, and once again, it had nothing to do with LSU’s defense dominating.

4th Drive:

LSU muffed the punt setting up UCF at LSU’s 20.

1st play:

An 11 yard crosser to Colubiale off play action:

Wide open, and once again UCF had the middle of the field wide open to utilize.

This is a ball I think Colubiale should have caught. Yes, it definitely could have been thrown better, but it looks like he extends his arms a little too late and the ref just might have been in his line of sight here.

Not sure if he would’ve score, but it would’ve been close.

A 5 yard rush on 2nd down was fine in my book. I think Heupel was playing for 4 down territory as he should have, but a false start on third down set up this on 3rd and 10:

Once again, great protection. Mack just throws this a little to deep on Gabe who ran a great post-corner route and was absolutely wide open.

Obviously if Davis catches the TD pass on the previous drive, this drive doesn’t happen, but two more plays here that would’ve been TD’s and UCF just didn’t execute. Again, LSU’s defense, not a factor.

Also, believe UCF should have gone for it here. All a field goal did was turn a 2 possession game into a 2 possession game, wait that’s not a positive.

5th Drive:

Mack threw a nice ball to Davis that resulted in a 15 yard PI on the first play… then since throwing the ball on first down the last three drives had resulted in three wide open receivers, Heupel went with a first down run, that set up UCF in 2nd and 8 and 3rd and 8, two obvious passing situations.

And I also believe they should have gone for it here. Down 13, with 11:36 on the clock and your defense hasn’t gotten off the field in probably under 5 minutes all game. It’s one of those situations where if you don’t get it, the casual fan will question it, but if you understand numbers and %’s it would be the right thing to do. Eventually, UCF came up a possession short (the last possession doesn’t count) and LSU marched down and took 7 minutes off the clock on the following drive.

6th Drive:

It was a thing of beauty after the 2 LSU penalties. They got a little momentum and unsurprisingly, the running game became successful. It’s almost like getting close to midfield helps out their running game a ton.

So, here’s my take, in the 2h, UCF had 6 true drives, only one of them did LSU’s defense actually force them off the field. They dropped 2 TD passes and Mack missed another as well as a pass that would’ve gave UCF a first down around midfield.

LSU’s defense did not dominate UCF in any form. Yes, they got pressure, on 36% of pass attempts, but UCF missed big play after big play despite the pressure.

Screens/Short Passes:

A lot of people I see are asking about screens and short swing passes. I’m completely fine with UCF not going to this over and over.

LSU dominated short passes to RB’s. They only allowed 10 of 31 passes thrown less than 10 yards to a RB, to turn into a successful play.

UCF tried 2 passes behind the LOS to RB’s… they went for a combined -1 yards.

LSU’s defensive strong point was their front 7, the area to attack them was passed the sticks, not behind the LOS.


While I think Heupel failed to adjust to attack LSU’s secondary, I showed you play after play where the middle of the field was wide open, UCF still had the opportunities on offense. There’s a lot of what ifs, but bottom line is, they just didn’t execute throws and catches in the second half.

It’s only Heupel’s first season as a HC and this was by far his toughest opponent, he’s only going to learn (hopefully) from this game and see some things that were there that he didn’t take advantage of.

The winning streak was going to come to an end eventually and UCF fans should be happy it came against a respectable opponent, although I think UCF beat themselves in this one both offensively and defensively.

Until next year…