TULSA, Okla. — Fifteen penalties. The mere mention of it made center Jordan Johnson cringe.
A cavalcade of errors plagued the UCF Knights in their collapse versus the Tulsa Golden Hurricane: There were seven second-half drives that resulted in a total of three points; a fumbled kickoff by Adrian Killins Jr.; an interception by Dillon Gabriel on a pass that wasn’t meant to land in the field of play; six sacks allowed to an opponent that had just seven for the entire year; a miscommunication on a snap that resulted in Gabriel being knocked senseless.
But nothing deserves more credit/blame for Friday’s loss than UCF’s season-high in penalties, which gave away 120 yards. Some were self-inflicted. Many made you facepalm. And yet all of it felt inevitable. Penalties have been this team’s Achilles’ heel all season long. Even following victories, the coaches and players complained about the propensity of not playing fundamentally sound or smart, rightfully so.
This game was the poster child for all of those gripes.
“It’s very frustrating simply because we’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” Killins said.
Killins had a 70-yard touchdown sprint called back due to holding late in the second quarter. But that mistake gets smoothed over since the Knights ended up scoring on that drive anyway and took a 28-17 advantage into halftime. Seven penalties for 54 yards in that first half? It’s not good, but the Knights looked to be in control, so why worry?
They returned for the third quarter — the period they dominated so thoroughly in their past two games — and the shooting of toes really commenced.
LB Nate Evans talked about that fourth-quarter altercation on the field with a couple of teammates.— Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy) November 9, 2019
"I didn't want my brothers to give up on me because I wouldn't give up on them."
Evans stressed that he didn't think any particular player was giving up. #UCF pic.twitter.com/NXPmBDCCNk
UCF was whistled for eight penalties in the second half, costing them 66 yards. Whereas you could overlook many of the first-half flags because of the score, I’d say five of the eight penalties in the second half played a significant role — some more than others — in the Knights’ downfall.
- UCF’s opening drive of the third: The offense sets up to go for it on fourth and 2 at their own 44. A false start by tackle Jake Brown squashes any chance of that drive continuing. Punt.
- Tulsa’s second drive of the quarter: Pass interference on cornerback Aaron Robinson turns a third and goal at the 8 into first and goal at the 2. The Golden Hurricane would hit pay dirt on the next snap.
- On the ensuing kickoff, Killins puts together a really nice return, but a holding penalty pushes UCF from near midfield back to the 30. The Knights would settle for a field goal.
- Tulsa’s first drive of the fourth: Pass interference on cornerback Nevelle Clarke gifts Tulsa 15 yards. This drive would end with another TD.
- The coup de grace: The Knights’ defense stops Tulsa on fourth and 1 close to midfield with less than two minutes to play, but they can’t get a 12th defender off the field in time before the snap and are flagged for too many men. Game over.
“Everybody’s got to share in this one tonight. It starts with me,” head coach Josh Heupel said, “but when you give free yards away, that makes it hard, too.”
With that, UCF loses a third game in this 2019 regular season — who saw that coming?? The combined margin of defeat for the Knights this season: Seven points.
There are common threads that run through each of the Ls, including poor offensive line play and an offense that hits the skids for long stretches of time. But you could at least tip your cap to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and say they made the plays that were directly responsible for winning the game. Pitt used a trick play to score the game-winning touchdown, and Cincinnati’s Michael Warren put the UCF defense on roller skates during a long run that changed the complexion of that contest.
But there is a different feeling in the aftermath of this road trip. UCF outgained Tulsa in the first, second and third quarters. In the fourth, Tulsa had the edge in yards ... 72-71.
The Knights scored on three of their four red-zone trips. They were much more successful than Tulsa on third and fourth downs. The defense didn’t suffer as many blown coverages as we’ve seen in previous losses. Tulsa’s star player, WR Keylon Stokes, was limited to just two catches for 47 yards.
But the Knights still lost. in the end, they beat the wrong team.