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Knee-Jerk Reactions: Tulsa 34, #11 UCF 26

Tulsa giveth and Tulsa taketh away UCF’s home winning streak

Tulsa v UCF
Cole Schneider
Photo by Conor Kvatek/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

On November 19, 2016, the UCF Knights lost to the Tulsa Golden Hurricane 35-20. Since that day, UCF has won 21 straight home games, the second longest current streak in FBS. 22 games after that 2016 game, UCF and Tulsa met each other again. The result was the same as the Golden Hurricane came back and defeated the Knights 34-26. It’s knee-jerk reaction time.

A Tulsa kind of day

The weather definitely played a factor in this one, especially early on. It was wet and the ball slippery. In the first quarter, there were five turnovers and two safeties. UCF had two turnovers and a safety while Tulsa had three turnovers and a safety. It was 16-2 after the first quarter. The weirdness of the day didn’t stop there. Tulsa has a weird effect on UCF. There is no team UCF plays in FBS that causes more trouble than Tulsa. Tulsa now leads the series 9-3 against UCF, and has won the last four and eight of the last nine meetings.

After the first quarter, Tulsa settled down and started whittling down UCF’s 23-5 lead. Like a fine wine, Tulsa got better as the game progressed. Like a beer sitting out, UCF got worse. UCF was able to take advantage of some of Tulsa’s mistakes. After the first fumble, the Knights were able to score on a 12 yard pass from Dillon Gabriel to Jacob Harris. Unfortunately, UCF failed to capitalize on subsequent turnovers. They did, however, score two points on a safety and score a touchdown on the ensuing drive.

Tulsa managed to take better advantage of turnovers. When Tulsa scored a safety on UCF, their next drive stalled, but an Otis Anderson fumble on the punt led to a Golden Hurricane field goal. On the opening kick for the second half, Johnny Richardson fumbled and Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith found Sam Crawford Jr. on a touchdown pass the following play.

Tulsa v Central Florida
Aaron Robinson and Richie Grant
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Zach Smith started the game rattled and uncomfortable. The defensive front of UCF was putting heavy pressure on him and making sure tackles. Once UCF built their 23-5 lead, Smith settled down, He made one incomplete pass and then three consecutive passes, including a 48 yard strike to Josh Johnson to wake Tulsa up. Smith’s next pass was a 34 yard touchdown. He then connected on a pair more passes of 49 and 21 yards to help set up another Tulsa touchdown. By this point, it’s 26-25. Smith’s six consecutive completions, including two for over 40 yards, led to 20 points being scored and rewrote the complexion of the game.

UCF’s production can be easily seen by the box score. 16-7-3-0. That was the scoring by quarter. The offensive efficiency deteriorated as the game went on and the defense was pounded into submission. Tulsa played a very physical game. Running back T.K. Wilkerson is a 230lb wrecking ball and he wore out the defense. Zach Smith showed great poise in the pocket and took a bunch of hits, but was able to convert key third down plays. The defensive backs were all over the field making plays to the tune of nine pass deflections. The defense had ten tackles for loss.

The physical play led to a lot of injuries for the Knights. Players like Richie Grant, Marlon Williams, Otis Anderson, Greg McCrae, and others had their share of injuries during the game. UCF has a couple of weeks to rest and heal.

Tulsa v UCF
Eric Mitchell and Eriq Gilyard
Photo by Conor Kvatek/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

The loss and Tulsa’s play overshadowed some good production that should be noted. The defense as a whole had eight tackles for loss and five takeaways, Linebackers Eric Mitchell and Eriq Gilyard had very busy days with 13 and 12 tackles, respectively, with each having a tackle for loss. Marlon Williams had another busy day with nine receptions. The two sacks the defense had each ended up as nine yard losses. Before being injured, Richie Grant was having a strong game with nine tackles and an interception. Also, how about offensive lineman Cole Schneider getting a short carry in for a touchdown? I love the beefed up power I-formation with Gabriel under center. With the quick snap, Tulsa had trouble figuring everything out.

Penalties are STILL a major problem

We’ve heard this time and time again. While UCF didn’t start with four consecutive false start penalties, the offense is still having a penalty problem. They were spread out throughout the game, but the Knights have another eleven false start penalties. Eleven. That’s even more than last week’s road game at East Carolina. Adding insult to injury, freshman wide receiver Ja’Cyais Credle was called for the rare targeting penalty on an offensive player. Long snapper Alex Ward was called for an unnecessary unsportsmanlike penalty on a punt where he pulled off Tulsa returner Keylon Stokes’ helmet and then chucked it downfield.

Overall, UCF had 18 penalties for 127 yards to go with the 27 penalties they had in the first two games. The team record was set last year at 111 penalties in 13 games. The Knights are already at 45 in only three games. To compare, UCF averaged about 8.5 penalties a game in 2019. They average 15 in 2020. To hit it home even further, the team had 125 yards rushing on the day compared to 127 yards in penalties.

A lot of fans’ ire is pointed at redshirt freshman Matt Lee. As a former center in my youth, I get how difficult the position actually is. The center makes all the line calls and adjustments. This requires them to move around pre-snap. For experienced centers, they learn how to do it with more peripheral vision and less motion and are able to move to make their reads without moving the ball, which causes snap infractions, which is just another type of false start. On two occasions, a snap infraction was called on the same play as the snap was chucked over Gabriel’s head. The extra movement of the ball is what threw off the trajectory because while the center needs to whip his arm back on shotgun snaps, the release point of the snap is rather low, since the quarterback is only a few yards back and the ball only needs to be about waist high. When distracted, the release point of the snap was late and the arm is coming up instead of going out, which creates the unnecessary air time. Unfortunately, at the FBS level, the game is very unforgiving to making these kinds of mistakes. Lee has big shoes to fill as Jordan Johnson handled center duties. The best solution is repetition at this point to get fast enough to keep up with the speed of the team.

The lack of discipline being a recurring theme is a major problem. These types of penalties are accentuated by the offense trying to go too fast. There is such a thing when some of the dead ball penalties are players not being set for a second before the snap. Josh Huepel needs to figure it out because it’s quickly becoming the staple of his program.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Or at least that’s what Tulsa was thinking. Last year, when Tulsa defeated UCF, the Golden Hurricane defensive front crashed the line and forced Gabriel into six sacks and being completely overwhelmed. While Gabriel only took one sack this time, the defensive front was routinely harassing Gabriel, forcing him out of the pocket and throwing the ball away or hitting a short yardage check down. The running game was unable to generate a push outside of a pair of big runs. As stated before, the Golden Hurricane had ten tackles for loss against the Knights. What’s amazing is that Tulsa on many occasions used only three down linemen and were still able to generate a massive amount of disruption at the line. This led to a lot of stopped drives and work for punter Andrew Osteen. Osteen had seven punts with an average of 46.3 yards per kick. While Osteen was called on plenty, he delivered.

Tulsa’s punter, Lachlan Wilson, returned the favor as UCF had four drives that started inside their own 10 yard line. With an offensive line unable to do much of anything against the Tulsa defensive front, Gabriel and company could not develop any rhythm. The defense wore out. Towards the end, frustrations mounted up and teammates were snapping at each other. The sidelines looked defeated well before the game was over.

Unfortunately for UCF, it is safe to say that it is broken and needs fixing.

Stat Leaders

UCF: Dillon Gabriel: 28/51 for 330 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int
Tulsa: Zach Smith: 17/29 for 273 yards, 3 TD, 2 Int

UCF: Otis Anderson: 17 carries for 84 yards, 1 TD
Tulsa: T.K. Wilkerson: 22 carries for 86 yards, 1 TD

UCF: Jaylon Robinson: 3 catches for 111 yards, 0 TD
Tulsa: Keylon Stokes: 6 catches for 95 yards, 1 TD

Game Notes

  • The loss snaps UCF’s 21-game home winning streak. It was the second-longest current streak in FBS.
  • In the last 42 games for UCF, they have had 40 games of 30 points or more. The Knights have won 37 of those 42, including four wins against top 25 teams and five wins against Power Five conference teams.
  • The loss snaps UCF’s streak of 9 games with 30 or more points.
  • Tulsa has defeated UCF four consecutive times and eight out of the last nine meetings.
  • UCF was leading Tulsa by 11 in both the 2019 and 2020 match-ups. UCF lost both games.
  • This was Tulsa’s first win against an AP top 15 ranked team since 1991.
  • UCF has the longest active streak of games with at least one passing and one rushing touchdown.
  • UCF recorded their first safety since November 2, 2019 against Houston.
  • UCF has recovered eight fumbles so far in 2020. That matches the 2019 total.
  • Sorry this isn’t my best. I’ll try harder next time.