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Knee-Jerk Reactions #22 UCF 38, #17 Tulane 31

UCF is now firmly in the driver’s seat for the AAC Championship Game and a New Years 6 Bowl

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Tulane
UCF DL Ricky Barber hitting Tulane QB Michael Pratt
Rebecca Warren-USA TODAY Sports

In the first ranked vs ranked home game since 1949, the 17th ranked Tulane Green Wave could not overcome the running game onslaught by the 22nd ranked UCF Knights 38-31. It’s knee-jerk reaction time.

Leaving it on the field

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Tulane
UCF QB John Rhys Plumlee drops back to pass
Rebecca Warren-USA TODAY Sports

In this case, I’m referring to points being left on the field.

UCF made this game closer than it should have. On UCF’s opening drive, they marched down the field, but had to settle for a 25-yard Colton Boomer. That’s 4 points. Later on, after recovering a fumble inside the Tulane 5, UCF could not convert on fourth down at the 1 and gave the ball back to the Green Wave. Now we’re up to 11 points.

On defense, a fumble by Michael Pratt in the first half should have been recovered by someone. Two Knights tried to pick it up and allowed a Green Wave receiver to slide in and secure the ball. Later on the same drive, a bad roughing the kicker call kept the drive alive and ultimately led to a Green Wave touchdown before getting the second half kickoff. Take your pick where it went wrong, but we’re now at 18 points directly and potentially another 7 points indirectly.

Long story short, UCF left points on the field and made this closer than it should have. Willie Fritz and Tulane have always been scrappy and UCF allowed them to stay in the game. And say what you want, but blaming bad refereeing is not a good excuse. They were bad for both teams.

Going back home

Next week, UCF concludes their revenge tour with the chance of going 3-1. They lost to Louisville, but defeated SMU, Cincinnati, and wrap up at home against Navy. Navy is always a tough team to play against because their triple option style offense wears defenses down. Last year, the Knights could not generate enough offense. Before the Knights played Tulane, the Midshipmen give up 35 points in the first half, but clawed their way back before losing 35-32, including 16 points in the fourth. UCF suffered a similar fate last year and will need to build up a good lead.

After Navy is a short bus trip to Tampa for a Thanksgiving matchup with South Florida to end the regular season. If UCF wins out, they will host the American Athletic Conference Championship Game. By beating Tulane and Cincinnati, they have the tiebreaker against each school.

The defense escapes

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Tulane
UCF DE KD McDaniel recovers a turnover
Rebecca Warren-USA TODAY Sports

Tulane was jazzed up for this game, but the defense did an excellent job of helping keep the crowd out of it for most of the game despite missing some key players in Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste, Divaad Wilson, Quadric Bullard, and more.

Michael Pratt was hit a number of times on his throws and sacked 2 times with a fumble. There was another fumble that UCF picked up and ran it down to inside the Tulane 10. With the wind adding to the challenge, the passing game was not able to establish itself until the fourth quarter when the Green Wave got desperate. Through three quarters, Tulane had 120 yards and a touchdown in the air. They had 116 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Four of the five plays of over 15 passing yards for Tulane occurred in the second half.

Tyjae Spears looked really good in the limited play he saw. He had a 70 and 31-yard run. Other than that, he finished with 6 carries for 29 yards. He was nursing an injury, which limited his carries and he had none in the fourth quarter. The Green Wave offensive line was able to pinch UCF’s defensive ends in and allowed speedy backs like Spears to get to the outside, which led to his big gains. There were times when he just flat-out outran the containment coverage to convert first downs on the sideline. When UCF’s ends were able to get outside, it forced the backs to cut back in where the defense was waiting for them.

So how did UCF win?

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Tulane
UCF RB RJ Harvey
Rebecca Warren-USA TODAY Sports

This game was about matchups. With 20mph winds being an issue and both teams committing more to the run, Gus Malzahn utilized John Rhys Plumlee and the run game.

Plumlee, who got hurt during the Cincinnati game and did not play last week against Memphis, ran heavy early, gaining over 115 yards on his first three carries, including a 67-yard touchdown run. He shortly later broke the school record for most rushing yards in a game by a quarterback. By halftime, he ran for 159 yards on 13 carries before finishing with 176 yards on 18 carries. The team totaled 230 yards rushing in the first half and 336 yards for the game.

Plumlee did dodge a bullet on a tackle that was ruled a fumble initially before a review overturned it. This isn’t a new issue as Plumlee leads with his shoulder into hits and has lost the ball before.

The second half was a struggle for the Knights as the running game stalled. It wasn’t until later in the fourth quarter that Bowser was brought back in and he wore down the defensive front. In UCF’s big drive to put the game away, Bowser carried the ball 12 times, including the drive-ending touchdown. They were able to keep at least one score ahead of Tulane, but it wasn’t easy.

Uniform review

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Tulane
UCF with with a black/white/white uniform with white decals
Rebecca Warren-USA TODAY Sports

UCF went with their standard black helmet with white decals. This contrast popped and I wish they’d used it more. The rest of the uniform was white on white. The helmet carried the torch. The rest, meh.

Stat Leaders

UCF: John Rhys Plumlee: 17/30 for 132 yards, 1 TD, 0 Int
Tul: Michael Pratt: 23/39 for 236 yards, 3 TD, 0 Int

UCF: John Rhys Plumlee: 18 carries for 176 yards, 2 TD
Tul: Tyjae Spears: 8 carries for 130 yards, 0 TD

UCF: Javon Baker: 10 catches for 75 yards, 0 TD
Tul: Asa Martin: 7 catches for 61 yards, 0 TD

Game Notes

  • UCF leads the series 15-2.
  • Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee sets a new school record for single-game rushing yards by a quarterback with 176 yards. The record was held by Vic Penn with 122 yards in 1999.
  • Sorry, it’s not my best, but I virtually stayed on Bourbon Street for too long.