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Knee-Jerk Reactions: #18 Tulane 45, #22 UCF 28

UCF falls short of conference gold and misses out on the Cotton Bowl

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Central Florida at Tulane
UCF falls and fails to collect the American Athletic Conference championship
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

In the final conference game as a member of the American Athletic Conference, the 22nd ranked UCF Knights suffered some previous conference-exiting deja vu by falling to the 18th ranked Tulane Green Wave 45-28. It’s Knee-Jerk Reaction time.

History has a habit of repeating itself

NCAA Football: CUSA Championship-Central Florida at Tulsa
Tulsa beat UCF in the 2012 Conference USA championship
Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve seen this before.

Turn the clock back to 2012.

UCF was on their way out of Conference USA to the then Big East. They won the East division and traveled to Tulsa to play in the championship game. They fell short but won in the long run during their time in the AAC. UCF lost to Tulane this year on the road but has already won in the long run by leaving the AAC for the Big 12 next year.

The Liberty Bowl was the prize in 2012 and the Knights ended up in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl. This time, the prize was the Cotton Bowl. Where UCF ends up is still up in the air, but it will definitely be a step down.

Redshirts make people see red

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Central Florida at Tulane
QB John Rhys Plumlee was dealing with a hamstring injury, which led to Tommy Castellanos playing and burning his redshirt.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

After the game against South Florida, backup quarterback Mikey Keene was asked if he was willing to burn his redshirt and in the moment, he said he would. Fast forward a week and the narrative has changed and he has decided not to play and keep his redshirt.

With Keene out, freshman Tommy Castellanos became the backup. Castellanos had already used up his four games so that any appearances would burn his redshirt. It didn’t take very long for him to make his first appearance in non-mop up duty because Plumlee looked sluggish. Plumlee hurt his hamstring last week against South Florida and had to sit out the second half. He tried to play in this game but lacked the explosiveness he normally had and it cost UCF on a fourth down conversion attempt.

While fans were excited to see the young freshman play, there is a reason he was only used in mop up duty. He looked very uncomfortable and the offense was dead in the water most of the time he was on the field. Castellanos finished 2/8 for 7 yards. He also had 7 carries for a net -8 yards.

Not a good day for redshirts.

The defense was on fire…

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Central Florida at Tulane
A familiar sight during the game was seeing the Tulane offense torch the UCF defense for a big play
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

…and not in a good way.

Tulane torched the Knights defense, to the tune of 648 yards. Michael Pratt threw for 394 yards and the team rushed for 254 more. The Green Wave had nine passes of 15+ yards and six rushes of 10+ yards. The Knights were plagued by slips, bad angles, and missed tackles and it cost them dearly. Four of Tulane’s six touchdowns were plays over 40 yards, which were the result of defensive miscues. The big plays helped give Tulane a yards per play average of 10.1 yards. Comparatively, UCF averaged 4.3 yards per play. That’s not good.

One thing the defense has done all year has been playing very soft coverage and Tulane picked it apart. It’s prevented the Knights from creating turnovers in the defensive backfield. Today, it took Pratt being hit to gift wrap an interception to UCF. Other than that, they were largely out of position and used a tactic that gave up a lot of yards. UCF is going to need to do things differently next year or it’s going to be a long season.

The defense did manage to create three turnovers, which has been an area of struggle this year, but the offense was only able to score one touchdown off them.

So how did UCF lose?

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Central Florida at Tulane
Tulane QB Michael Pratt threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns against the UCF defense.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Where do we begin?

Since the end of the game against Tulane, the Knights and Green Wave have gone in opposite directions. Tulane defeated AAC title contender Cincinnati and leveled SMU. UCF laid an egg against Navy and needed divine intervention to defeat South Florida after blowing a four score lead.

The Green Wave played some inspired ball. AAC Offensive Player of the Year Tyjae Spears broke open some big runs en route to 199 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Spears had a 60-yard touchdown run along with a 56-yard run that set up another score. Outside of an interception that was caused by being hit, Michael Pratt was able to generate big plays in the air. Four of Pratt’s throws went for over 40 yards with three going for touchdowns. Pratt went 20/33 for 394 yards with 4 touchdowns and an interception. UCF only had one pass of over 40 yards and it was thrown by running back RJ Harvey, a quarterback at Virginia in his past life.

The things UCF did in the first meeting did not work this time around. It was obvious from the get-go that John Rhys Plumlee’s hamstring wasn’t right and he was sluggish, lacking the explosiveness that made him such a dynamic passer.

Plumlee was pulled and replaced by freshman Tommy Castellanos in the first quarter and things did not improve. The Knights were too one-dimensional with the run and could not create any respect for the passing game.

Plumlee was re-inserted into the lineup and gave the offense some life, but it wasn’t enough to offset Tulane’s ability to create big scoring plays as the Green Wave was too busy torching the defense. If there is one consolation, it’s that the offense had zero turnovers. Yay?

Now what?

Now we wait to see UCF’s fate since the Cotton Bowl is out of the picture. I’ve been of the mindset that the Knights will end up in the Military Bowl against an ACC team like Wake Forest or Duke. We should also see some players announce their departure from the program.

Uniform review

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Central Florida at Tulane
UCF with with a black/white/white uniform
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Like last week, UCF stuck with a black helmet but switched to a white block logo. They also added white tops and bottoms. Unfortunately, it doesn’t beat out Tulane’s light blues with a white helmet and shiny wave logo.

Stat Leaders

UCF: John Rhys Plumlee: 21/39 for 209 yards,1 TD, 0 Int
TUL: Michael Pratt: 20/33 for 394 yards, 4 TD, 1 Int

UCF: Isaiah Bowser: 20 carries for 85 yards, 1 TD
TUL: Tyjae Spears: 22 carries for 199 yards, 1 TD

UCF: Ryan O’Keefe: 6 catches for 37 yards, 0 TD
TUL: Shae Wyatt: 5 catches for 110 yards, 2 TD

Game Notes

  • UCF leads the series 10-3.
  • UCF has lost the last game as a member of every football conference they have previously been a member of(2004 MAC, 2012, CUSA, 2022 AAC).
  • UCF falls to 9-4 and will be going to a bowl game for a seventh consecutive season and thirteenth overall.
  • Running back Isaiah Bowser scored one touchdown, giving 14 on the season and is tied for 3rd in school history. Bowser is tied with Marquette Smith(1995), Brynn Harvey(2009), and Storm Johnson(2013).
  • Wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe had six receptions to give him 184 on his career, tying him with Mike Sims-Walker(2003-06) for 4th in school history.
  • Tulane is the first team to generate 600+ yards of offense against UCF since BYU in the 2020 Boca Raton Bowl.
  • Sorry, it’s not my best, but I didn’t want to burn my redshirt, so I sat out and sent in my freshman alter ego.