Each week during the football season, a few staff contributors will answer five questions regarding the upcoming game ahead. It’s a way to get the staff to come together as well as the rest of Knights Nation, to see if they agree or disagree with the crew at BGB.
In our second roundtable of the football season, Jeremy Brener, Andrew Gluchov, Jeff Sharon, and Brian Murphy take their seats at the roundtable to answer questions about the UCF Knights’ matchup against Tulsa.
1) The Knights fell short to Tulsa last year. What do the Knights need to do to ensure that doesn’t happen again?
Jeremy Brener (@JeremyBrener): They just need to keep doing what they’ve been doing these last two weeks. The team that will take the field Saturday is leaps and bounds better than the team that faced Tulsa last year because Dillon Gabriel has taken the necessary steps to get better as a QB and as a leader of the offense. I would like to see a more disciplined offensive line than the one that started the game last week against ECU, so hopefully we get that and another rout of an AAC opponent.
Andrew Gluchov (@StatBoyDrew): It helps that the game is at home as Tulsa just seems to have UCF’s number. The Golden Hurricane are 3-3 against the Knights in Orlando, but 5-0 at home, and they have won the last three games overall. Tulsa owns the dubious distinction of being the last team to defeat the Knights at the Bounce House back in 2016. We know that the key to beating Dillon Gabriel is to crash the line and rush his throws. In every one of his losses last year, he was rattled by heavy blitzing. Georgia Tech had some success doing this before tiring out. In short, focus on pass protection.
Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon): Two things. Number one: Don’t beat yourself with penalties. In last year’s match-up, UCF committed 15 penalties for 120 yards, including a costly personal foul and an intentional grounding the last time they had the ball, and a 12 men on the field penalty when they stopped Tulsa on 4th & 1 at the UCF 44 in the final minute. This year, penalties have been the Knights’ biggest issue, averaging 13.5 penalties for 95 yards per game, so unless they clean that up, we’re going to have problems. And number two: Protect Dillon Gabriel. Tulsa sacked him six times last year. That’s not acceptable.
Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy): As I wrote after last year’s loss in Tulsa, the Knights beat themselves. So, yeah, you better make sure you’re on the right side in the penalty and turnover columns. But as stated above, this really is about who wins along the line of scrimmage. Tulsa employs a 3-3-5 defense unlike anything UCF has seen since last year or will see for the rest of this season. The Golden Hurricane focus on limiting big plays downfield with their tall cornerbacks, Allie Green IV and Akayleb Evans, and with three safeties over the top. Tulsa’s front six shapeshifts often, which can be difficult to pick up in pass protection, so the Knights will need to draw up a lot of plays where Dillon Gabriel can get the ball out quickly and rely on his wideouts for YAC. We’ve already seen plenty of that. UCF had success running the football in Tulsa — 203 yards on 40 carries once you take out the sack yardage — so I think you’ll see an emphasis there. That combined with an efficient, quick-trigger aerial attack should be enough to keep this defense on its heels.
2) With Otis Anderson potentially out, which player needs to step up in his absence?
Jeremy: If Otis doesn’t play, I think it means we could see more wheels out of Dillon Gabriel. He’s flashed his speed so much more this season than last year already and the load is going to fall on his shoulders whether it comes via the ground or air. Obviously, this should also result in an uptick in carries for Bentavious Thompson and Greg McCrae, but look for some more designed runs from Gabriel if the backfield is limited.
Andrew: The good news is that we have already seen UCF adapt to Otis being out. Assuming he doesn’t play, Greg McCrae will get the start and Bentavious Thompson slides into the second back role. I’d love to see more Johnny Richardson in there. He’s a burner. I expect to see more of Marlon Williams in the backfield as a lead blocker. The running game was rather successful when he was moved behind the line. They will need to occasionally give him the ball to not make it as obvious what play is being run.
Jeff: We were all worried about UCF’s running back depth coming into this year, and lo and behold here we are. Don’t forget that Greg McCrae is also a bit banged up from last week, although he should play. I personally want to see more Johnny Richardson after last week’s TD, which gave me some Adrian Killins flashbacks. And maybe we can see some R.J. Harvey too.
Brian: McCrae didn’t face Tulsa last year due to a knee injury, and UCF gave Anderson 16 carries in his absence. I think you’ll see the script reversed here if Otis is indeed out. The Knights have no problem giving Greg upwards of 20 touches. Thompson will be mixed in, definitely. But Richardson already looks like a difference-maker, someone who can provide a big play when your offense stagnates. You can see the Adrian Killins Jr. comparisons, and AK provided the longest play from scrimmage in last year’s meeting — a 57-yard TD run. Richardson probably isn’t ready for more than a handful or two of carries, but I hope to see him used outside of garbage time.
I’ll add that Jeremy’s answer is probably going to look prescient if UCF struggles in pass protection again versus Tulsa. Gabriel’s continued progress as a runner will make this offense even more difficult to stop this season.
3) Which player needs to stand out on defense?
Jeremy: I said Randy Charlton last week, and I’m going to stick with that answer for this week. The pass rush has been the least successful unit on the defense, registering only two sacks in as many games. If they can get that unit going, it could make them that much more dominant. It starts with the veteran Charlton.
Andrew: I said Eric Mitchell last week and he delivered with a tie for team high eight tackles. This time, like Jeremy said, I’m calling out Randy Charlton. While Charlton has done some little things that don’t get on the stat sheet, the defensive ends got exposed for bad outside containment in each of the first two games and he was especially quiet against East Carolina. There are high expectations for the talented junior and he could use a strong turnaround game.
Jeff: I’m with Jeremy and Andrew here in wanting to see UCF put some major heat on Zach Smith. So it’s the front four of Randy Charlton, Kenny Turnier, Anthony Montalvo and Stephon Zayas that have to cause havoc Saturday. I’ll also throw in Tre’mon Morris-Brash for good measure.
Brian: Yep, it’s the defensive line. Specifically, its ability to get into Tulsa’s backfield and create pressure. I won’t single out anyone; it’s a collective effort.
4) Which Tulsa player do the Knights need to keep an eye on?
Jeremy: I’m going to go on the defensive end with this one and say LB Zaven Collins. The defense for Tulsa gave up just 16 points to a high-scoring Oklahoma State offense in their first game this season, much in large part to a stout defense that registered six sacks. Three of those came from the junior linebacker, who is looking to make Dillon Gabriel’s life difficult Saturday evening.
Andrew: There’s something about Tulsa quarterbacks named Smith playing well against UCF. It first started with Paul Smith fifteen years ago and continues today with Zach Smith. While Zach Smith didn’t light up the stat sheet in last year’s win against the Knights, he went a very efficient 10 for 14 for 127 yards and a touchdown. The senior transfer from Baylor did way better than the team’s record indicated and considering Tulsa’s history, he can’t be ignored.
Jeff: I watched the Tulsa-Oklahoma State game and the guy who stood out to me was RB Deneric Prince. He transferred over from Texas A&M, and filled in nicely for the injured Shamari Brooks, with 82 yards on 13 carries, and he would have had a TD had he not gotten facemasked on a 4th quarter run where he got slowed down enough to be brought down at the 5, and then Tulsa completely imploded on the next four downs. But he’s big at 6-1, 214, and fast enough to also return kicks. He could be a problem.
Brian: The guys have already listed some big names — Collins, Smith, Prince. All good answers. And I mentioned Tulsa’s lengthy cornerbacks earlier; both of them have next-level potential. I’ll add another offensive player: Keylon Stokes. He lines up often as a wide receiver, but Tulsa likes to find ways to give him the ball, be it on the perimeter or as a running back. He’s an instant-offense type of player who also returns punts. The Knights kept him to just 81 all-purpose yards last year, but there were times when Tulsa’s quarterbacks missed him when he was open. Stokes has to be accounted for on every snap.
5) Score prediction.
Jeremy: UCF 35, Tulsa 17
Andrew: UCF 44, Tulsa 21. There’s something historically special about the number 44 and games between UCF and Tulsa.
Jeff: UCF 41, Tulsa 24. Andrew took my guess so I’m reversing the ones digits.
Brian: UCF 45, Tulsa 20. I can’t believe I’m going to take the under (O/U 72), but there should be enough defense here to make it happen. Ultimately, UCF’s offense should be too deep and versatile for the Golden Hurricane to keep up.