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UCF’s Week 13 Checklist vs. Tulane

The Knights’ defense will have its hands full trying to slow Green Wave QB Justin McMillan

NCAA Football: Houston at Tulane
Tulane QB Justin McMillan leads the Green Wave with 552 rushing yards and 12 rush TDs.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

NEW ORLEANS -- Here are four things I'll be tracking from Yulman Stadium on Saturday.

1. How do the UCF Knights’ defense try to defend Tulane Green Wave QB Justin McMillan

Despite his position, McMillan is going to make his biggest plays with his legs. If you want a great look at why Tulane’s ground attack can be so difficult to stop, definitely read Anthony Lenahan’s long-form breakdown. Even if you don’t understand all of the metrics presented within, you can see how Tulane flusters defenses with a ton of pre-snap motion, misdirection and options galore for McMillan when he has the ball.

As I mentioned on this week’s BGB podcast, I’m concerned that McMillan and Tulane will use the UCF defense’s aggressiveness against them. The Knights blitz often, but if they don’t corral McMillan when they have the first chance, that’s going to leave a lot of open spaces for him to dart out and rip off big gains.

“The challenge this week is to just keep [McMillan] caged in,” defensive end Tre’Mon Morris-Brash said Tuesday. “If we keep him caged in, then he won’t be able to run. We have to keep those rush lanes filled and just attack him.”

Much easier said than done.

Welcome our newest staff member, Anthony Lenahan! Here's his first piece for us, a MASSIVE breakdown of UCF Football vs. Tulane Football.

Posted by Black & Gold Banneret - UCF Sports Podcast, News and Analysis on Thursday, November 21, 2019

2. Will the Knights’ offensive line plug their recent leaks?

I could harp on Dillon Gabriel’s turnover woes away from Orlando — each of his seven interceptions have come during UCF’s three road losses — but I think it’s prudent to place the blame for some of those mistakes on the offensive line, which hasn’t done a very good job of keeping Gabriel upright on the road. That experienced group has given up 15 of its 22 sacks in those three Ls, including six sacks each at Pittsburgh and Tulsa.

“It’s just really disappointing to know that we put in all the work throughout the week and then we come out and have those kind of games that we know isn’t the standard and isn’t our full potential,” center Jordan Johnson said Wednesday.

We’ve asked players and coaches, once again, what needs to be better with this O-line, and the answers are kind of like a broken record at this point: Communication, execution, focus, effort, preparing the right way, etc.

It’s a mixture of all of that, really. I think the Green Wave’s pass defense can be exploited, and they rank near the bottom of the American in sacks and tackles for loss. But considering that Tulsa recorded six sacks versus UCF despite entering that matchup with seven sacks for the entire season, all bets are off.

⚔️ NEW PODCAST! ⚔️ We are LOADED: - UCF Football vs. Tulane Football preview with Anthony Lenahan - UCF Men's Soccer...

Posted by Black & Gold Banneret - UCF Sports Podcast, News and Analysis on Thursday, November 21, 2019

3. How will the homecoming Knights perform?

Let’s take a trip down #NarrativeStreet...

This game is going to be a very emotional one for linebacker Nate Evans.

“It’s going to be tears of joy,” he said.

Evans grew up in Waggaman, La., about 30 minutes away from Tulane University, on the other side of the Mississippi River. Defensive end Brendon Hayes is a New Orleans native. Safety Richie Grant expects to have a lot of family members make the ~80-mile drive from Lumberton, Miss., where he was born and lived until the age of 9, to see him play for the very first time.

You know these guys want to ball with their friends and families in attendance, so I’m eager to see if they carry a little extra edge Saturday.

4. What does RB Greg McCrae look like in his first game in more than a month?

I asked McCrae if he is anxious this week about his return to the playing field.

“I’ve been anxious,” he countered.

McCrae has been inactive since injuring his right knee in the first quarter of the Knights’ win over East Carolina on Oct. 19. But he is fully healed now. Josh Heupel said Monday that McCrae is “100 percent.” Running backs coach Anthony Tucker added that if UCF had played a game last week, McCrae would have been suited up and ready to roll.

However, Tulane has been pretty strict against the run of late. If you subtract their struggles against Navy’s triple option last month, the Green Wave have permitted just 111.3 rushing yards per game since early October.