UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel is in a unique position where he’s played for Josh Heupel and now Gus Malzahn.
Heupel was the head coach at UCF before taking over as the Tennessee Vols’ head coach this past winter. Gus Malzahn was the head coach at Auburn for eight seasons before getting fired and taking over for Heupel at UCF earlier this year.
“Who got the better end of this coaching switch?” is a popular debate that’s lingered on social media all year.
It’s a bit early to answer that question objectively.
However, Gabriel can at least lend an interesting perspective to the debate.
The UCF quarterback, who played under Heupel for two years, recently explained the difference in the offensive approach by Heupel and Malzahn.
Gabriel noted that UCF’s offense this season won’t be as fast as the offense was under Heupel, but that’s because the offense under Malzahn is more complex.
“It’s not as fast because of the fact it’s not as simple,” said Gabriel (via 247Sports). “We get to the line quickly but there’s a lot more in the process that goes into it rather than with Heup. We’d line it, call it and try to be as fast as possible. At times it was really rushed [in 2020] because of how fast we played, so you’re just kind of learning on the fly with every play. You’re kinda just running to grass. With Gus, I truly feel like we’re scheming things up, getting into looks you like, giving you answers and if he doesn’t like the look, he checks it, which is something I like.”
Gabriel said in one game last season (against Georgia Tech) that he only threw 12-yard fallouts and verticals, and a handful of out routes.
The crux of Heupel’s offense is catching the defense off guard or in an improper alignment (which will be tough to do against disciplined defenses in the SEC). Essentially, if the defense is sound in their assignments, it could be tough for Heupel’s offense to score points.
Gabriel said he felt uneasy at times in 2020 because of misguided game plans.
UCF’s game plans also seemed misguided in 2020. Scouting incorrectly predicted defensive looks in eight of 10 games, Gabriel said. It appears UCF succeeded in spite of the plans and scouting. The quarterback became obsessed with his progressions against certain coverages so he could better make decisions after the snap rather than worry about the play calls.
“You felt uneasy,” says Gabriel.
Tennessee’s offensive staff hasn’t been shy about having a limited playbook. It’s something that offensive coordinator Alex Golesh mentioned late last month while discussing the quarterback position.
“The tempo of play (is important), how we operate on offense, we don’t have a vast menu of a million plays,” said Golesh.
So will Heupel’s simple offense work in the SEC?
I think it will at times. Missouri averaged 37.5 points per game (No. 14 in the nation) in 2017 with Heupel as the offensive coordinator. That’s proof that Heupel’s offense can score points in the SEC.
But at the same time, there were moments when Missouri’s offense sputtered in 2017.
The Tigers scored only 3 points at home against Purdue in 2017. In fact, in a three-game stretch of home games against South Carolina, Purdue, and Auburn, Missouri scored only 30 total points.
A team that plays with tempo like Tennessee can’t afford for the offense to disappear for games at a time. Otherwise, it could get real ugly, real fast.
It’ll be interesting to see how Heupel is able to adjust to being a head coach in the SEC against some of the top defenses in the nation. The Vols have a lot of potential under Heupel, but there are definitely some legitimate concerns about whether or not this offense will work long-term.
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