Here is what I was watching closely during Friday’s game at Tulsa. Here’s how those keys turned out.
1. How do the UCF Knights try to contain Tulsa Golden Hurricane WR Keylon Stokes?
Stokes came in averaging about 125 all-purpose yards per game and finished this game with just 81, his second-lowest total of the season. His two receptions and 47 receiving yards are personal lows since Tulsa’s second game of the year.
However, I don’t think the Knights did anything fancy to slow Stokes. First of all, Tulsa threw just 24 passes out of 79 plays. He was targeted seven times and could have had a much bigger statistical impact, but there were singular plays in the second and fourth quarters where he was open for a likely touchdown, but his quarterback either ignored him, didn’t see him or saw him too late.
The fact that UCF lost this game without Stokes really doing much at all is another reason to shake your head in disbelief at the result.
2. Who makes a big play on a punt return?
“Call it a hunch, but I have a feeling we will be talking about a punt return in the aftermath of this one.”
I got a lot wrong about this game, and this ... is another thing I got wrong about this game. Only one of 11 punts were returned Friday; Stokes took one for 3 yards.
The punting on display was not exemplary. There were a bunch of short, wobbly kicks that made any return impossible. Otis Anderson continued to have some difficulty fielding punts on the road; he almost muffed one and backed away from another at the last second. He has talked about how other schools use footballs that are different than the Nike balls put in play during UCF home games, and that gives him trouble sometimes. This is something to monitor when the Knights travel to Tulane next weekend.
Also, I know this has nothing to do with punts, but: UCF got some lucky bounces to avoid having not one, but two kickoffs roll out of bounds. It’s strange how that continues to be an issue this late in the year.
Josh Heupel says on the AAC Coaches Teleconference that he is "confident" RB Greg McCrae will play next week at Tulane. #UCF— Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy) November 11, 2019
3. More third-quarter magic for UCF?
So much for that narrative.
Friday’s third quarter contained five full drives.
Three of them were influenced by a UCF penalty, including Tulsa’s only scoring drive of the period, a touchdown that occured one play after pass interference in the end zone on UCF. The Knights recorded their longest scoring drive of the season in terms of plays (16) and time (4:37) in the third quarter, but that possession was hamstrung by a holding penalty on the kickoff, costing the Knights 13 yards. They settled for a field goal.
Plus, a fourth drive was capped by a Dillon Gabriel interception, although that kind of served as a punt on third and 12.
This third quarter also had the strangest and perhaps scariest play of UCF’s season: Center Jordan Johnson snaps the ball on third and 3 while no one is looking, Gabriel chases it down 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage, picks it up, chucks it and gets crushed (with what looks like helmet-to-helmet contact).
That’s followed by an interminable replay review and, ultimately, it is marked down as just an incomplete pass.
But per usual, the box scores and the play-by-play recaps lie. That was a heck of a lot more than just an incomplete pass.
4. How will penalties impact the game’s flow and the result?
Oh, baby. I had thoughts:
I could talk a bunch more about the penalties UCF committed Friday, but I’ll instead close with two things.
1. Josh Heupel was asked during Monday’s American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference about that decisive fourth-and-1 play where the Knights had too many men on the field. What happened there?
“We were in a goal-line package there on [fourth] and short and had an extra DB in the game. Obviously, communication coming out of the timeout wasn’t where it needs to be,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s my job as the head coach. Disappointed that that happened, and that’s how the game ends.”
I know a lot of people wanted that question asked and answered, so there you have it.
2. When you go back and look at that play again, it’s even worse than I thought.
Cornerback Tay Gowan was the man trying to run off the field in time. He didn’t make it. But at the same time, safety Antwan Collier was running ON to the field.
The Knights were officially penalized for having 12 men in the formation. But they actually had 13 men on the field. Coming out of a timeout.
And of course, the stop on that play was made largely by linebacker Eric Mitchell, who lined up on the opposite side from all that commotion. Honestly, the Knights could have sent out 10 men on that play, and Mitchell still would have caught the running back in the backfield.