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Knights Roundtable: A Sort of Homecoming

Jeff, Drew, Bryson and Kyle talk UCF and Tulane

Mikey Keene and Johnny Richardson
Photo: Derek Warden

In our Homecoming edition of the Roundtable, Jeff Sharon, Andrew Gluchov, Bryson Turner and Kyle Nash preview the UCF Knights’ matchup with the Tulane Green Wave on Saturday.

1. UCF is a big favorite — 13 points. Is that an overreaction to last week’s win or an indictment of Tulane’s 1-7 record?

Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon): I think it’s more on Tulane than anything, although Vegas sometimes gets caught in their own recency bias. I do think that as UCF recovers from all the early season — and by that I mean Louisville game — injuries, that momentum has increased. Mikey Keene was great last week. So this makes sense to me.

Andrew Gluchov (@StatBoyDrew): I wouldn’t call it an overreaction. Remember, three points goes to the home team, so that’s really a ten point natural spread. Considering not only Tulane’s record, but the performance in how they got to that record, the spread is fair. The Bounce House is a tough place to play and Tulane has not put together a complete game against any FBS opponent. Depending on who lines up behind the center will help determine how much life the offense is going to have against a defense that has been on fire.

Kyle Nash (@TheSoTG): I think it’s a combination of both. Vegas may not only be overreacting to the Temple win but also buzz around Jaylon Robinson. It’s also a lack of respect for a Tulane team that is better than its 1-7 record. This is a squad that has had a strength of schedule ranked as high as 11th according to Coach Malzahn on Monday and has played schools like Oklahoma and Cincinnati competitively. Does anyone remember what happened with a 2-win Tulsa team in 2019? Also, the situation revolving around Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt and his concussion protocol status further clouds things.

Bryson Turner (@itsBrysonTurner): A mixture of both. Despite a great start to their season against Oklahoma, Tulane has been outscored 208-111 on the road against FBS opponents, which is likely contributing to a spread like this. However, I think it’s also an overreaction. Despite being handily beaten by Ole Miss, East Carolina, and SMU on the road, the Green Wave have never scored less than 21 points in any of their road games. This spread seems to bank on Tulane’s prior experience on the road, but I don’t know if that’s going to reign true again on Saturday.

2. If QB Michael Pratt can play for the Wave — he’s been out with a concussion since last month — how might that change the Knights’ defensive outlook?

Tulane QB Michael Pratt
Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jeff: Well, Pratt hasn’t exactly lit it up for Tulane when he has been in there. He’s been just OK by preseason expectation standards (59%, 1,598 yards, 16 TD/5 INT). Last week against Cincy was Highway 88 for backup Kai Horton. Tulane’s problem isn’t their offense, which is average. It’s the defense.

Andrew: He’s the best they got, but he hasn’t lit the world on fire. While he’s not prone to costly mistakes, like turnovers, he struggles on getting the ball from Point A to Point B. They’re going to be pass first if Pratt is playing and he’s going to have to deal with a defense that has been riding the wave of positive momentum. The D has been very effective over the last three games between making good quarterbacks play below their season average or forcing errors that the Knights have been able to capitalize on.

Kyle: Considering coach Malzahn’s mantra to stop the run first, I believe it won’t change anything unless he is well protected and hits some big connections early. I don’t expect defensive linemen Ricky Barber or BigKat Bryant to let that happen.

Bryson: It at least gives the Knights a known quantity to play against. Pratt went 12-24 and threw for 215 yards last season in the Bounce House, and the Green Wave still lost 51-34. Considering the UCF Secondary has really found itself over the past couple of weeks, I don’t think they need to change too much, just study last year’s film and keep doing what they’ve been doing.

3. Mikey Keene threw for 5 TDs on 16/21 last week. Could we see a duplication of that this week?

Jeff: If the running game does what it should, yeah. Tulane is 104th against the run (185 yards per game), so this strikes me as the breakout opportunity for Isaiah Bowser. He has been playing himself back up to 100% since coming back from his injury, and I think this is his best opportunity to eat since his early season efforts.

Andrew: Not like last week. Temple was missing their top two tacklers, one in the defensive backfield, and a starting cornerback. That passing defense was a skeleton crew and they sold out on the run, daring Keene to throw it. Stacking the box is fine if you have the personnel to hold the fort down in the defensive backfield. Temple did not. Tulane, while their defense is not very good, is not that shorthanded. UCF will still rely on the run to set up the pass, but I don’t expect to see Keene to be as efficient as he was last week. Too many moving parts all lined up for him.

Kyle: Only if the receivers consistently catch the ball. This isn’t to say that wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe is a bad player, but the cylinders must be firing to get numbers like that. I also expect the running backs to get enough touches and big runs to where Keene doesn’t even throw 25 times in the ball game.

Bryson: The reason Keene was able to do that in the first place was because of Temple not providing an answer for the UCF rushing attack. If Bowser’s absence has taught this team anything, it’s that they need to establish the rushing attack so that the passing attack has more chances to be successful. The fact that Bowser returned to his workhorse role last week and Keene, in turn, had his best passing performance of the season proves this. Perhaps there will be a more even split between rushing and passing touchdowns this time, but Keene should be just as productive as long as Bowser is able to establish and solidify the rushing attack.

4. So, what do you think the odds are that Dillon Gabriel could return for next week’s game at #23 SMU?

Jeff: Man, I don’t know. Letting the clavicle heal is one thing. Regaining the strength to throw the ball up to his standards is another. He keeps dropping hints though:

I think it would be the height of drama for him to come back and maybe lead UCF to a victory over a ranked team on the road.

Andrew: Set the expectations low. It makes it easier to deal with when it doesn’t happen. It also adds to any jubilation if you’re surprised going the other way.

Kyle: Absolute 0. And for him to do so seems borderline foolish based on the information that we have in my opinion. It’s not like Dillon Gabriel’s social media hasn’t falsely hyped a quarterbacks return before. . . unless we’re forgetting “coach” McKenzie Milton being rumored to start a game before he transferred to FSU?

Bryson: From all of Gabriel’s indications, he’s seemed to have bounced back and the only obstacle to his return is just getting back to 100 percent. Could that happen before the SMU game? Who’s to say? It’d certainly be nice to have him though. If there was any game I’d want him back for, it’d be this one.

5. Score predictions!

Jeff: We win. BIG.

Andrew: Even if Pratt plays, this just isn’t a good enough team to hang. UCF 31-13.

Kyle: With all of the talk about respect that Tulane isn’t getting, it’s hard to believe they’ll cover in this one. 38-20, UCF

Bryson: UCF wins, 42-17.