Location: Yulman Stadium – New Orleans, LA
Date: Saturday, November 23
Time: 11:00 a.m. CT
Records: Tulane 6-4 (3-3 AAC), UCF 7-3 (4-2 AAC)
Betting Line: UCF -6; O/U 70
All-Time Series: UCF leads 6-2-0
Last Meeting: UCF 37, Tulane 6 (November 5, 2016)
Quick Hits: The Knights don’t feel like the same team that they’ve been in recent years because... quite simply... they aren’t. That’s not to say, though, that Tulane should expect a cakewalk for their last home game of the season. UCF is still extremely talented and in Josh Heupel’s second season at the helm, the Knights are a force to be reckoned with in the American. That being said, they are coming off a shocking defeat at the hands of Tulsa two weeks ago and with a week off to think about it, a bounce-back is needed this weekend.
Then there’s Tulane; a team we labeled a disappointment earlier this week. As far as the AAC is concerned, they have been just that. The Green Wave started the season with a strong 5-1 mark including a heart-stopping win over Houston and a dominant performance against Army. Down the stretch, though, Willie Fritz’s team has stumbled, going just 1-3 in their last four. Failing to get back on the winning track this Saturday will put the Wave in danger of finishing the season at .500 as SMU is looming.
From UCF’s Perspective: Let’s start with UCF. No more McKenzie Milton has hardly been an issue as quarterback Dillon Grabriel has come in and taken the reigns. Gabriel has thrown for 2,806 yards this season and 24 touchdowns with only seven picks. The standout freshman is completing just over 60% of his throws for a blistering 9.6 yards per attempt. If he plays up to these numbers, the Knights should be in for a treat in New Orleans, especially seeing as Tulane’s defense has been suspect as of late. The unit is surrendering over 200 yards per game.
Gabriel is accompanied by a trio of receivers that have made his life infinitely easier. Gabriel Davis is the team’s leading pass catcher with 1,060 yards and 10 scores on 59 grabs. For those of you doing the math at home, that’s an average of 18 yards per reception. Then there’s Tre Nixon who’s responsible for over 700 yards and seven touchdowns. Behind him is Marlon Williams with 430 yards and four TDs. These three could have a field day against Tulane’s struggling secondary.
On the ground UCF boasts another talented committee of playmakers. Otis Anderson has a team-high 609 yards while fellow back Bentavious Thompson has eight touchdowns on 66 carries. Also in the fray are Adrian Killins (508 yards, six TDs) and Greg McCrae (401 yards, six TDs).
If it isn’t clear already, the Knights offense can hit you in a lot of ways.
Their defense, however, isn’t too shabby either. Led by senior linebacker Nate Evans, UCF’s D is giving up just 138.4 rush yards per contest. That is key seeing as Tulane loves to run the ball with guys like Darius Bradwell, Corey Dauphine and Amare Jones. Evans, who has a team-best 85 tackles (10.5 for loss) will be instrumental is bottling up the Green Wave ground attack.
The Knights’ secondary is led by DB Antwan Collier. The junior has strung together 53 tackles, two interceptions and four defended passes this fall but will have some work to do against a strong Tulane receiving corps. He will be joined Tay Gowan who has two inteceptions and six knocked away throws.
Finally, on special teams, UCF is dangerous as well. Anderson, along with running back duties, handles the majority of the Knights’ punt returns and does it well. He has accumulated over 200 return yards on 16 runbacks and has a touchdown doing so.
From Tulane’s Perspective: On Tulane’s side of things, the outlook isn’t as bright... at least not as much as it has been earlier this year. Quarterback Justin McMillan has thrown for 1,806 yards (exactly 1,000 yards less than Gabriel). Unlike UCF’s signal caller, though, McMillan has only 13 TDs passing and 10 interceptions, eight of which have come over the last four contests. There’s no two ways about it, he will have to play better this weekend or the Greenies will be in for a long afternoon.
McMillan also leads the team in rush yards and that’s both a good and a bad thing. He’s been no stranger to making things happen on the ground for the Wave. This season he’s racked up 552 rush yards and 12 touchdowns on 114 attempts. Those numbers are all well above the next guy on the list: Darius Bradwell.
Bradwell and Dauphine both have missed some time due to injury but even since their return, things haven’t quite clicked the same for the ground game. McMillan can’t be asked to shoulder the burden by himself. The Wave will need these two along with the sophomore Amare Jones to pick up the slack. Jones has four TDs this season while Bradwell has 410 yards on 91 totes. Dauphine is responsible for four scores as well.
Darnell Mooney and Jalen McCleskey are McMillan’s leading receivers with 574 and 368 yards respectively. The duo have combined for 62 catches and seven touchdowns this season and will have to step up on the outside if the offense is to find success against a stout UCF defense.
Tulane’s own D will need to amplify their play as well. Last week they gave up 402 yards against Temple and such a performance again this week will spell certain defeat. Led by DB P.J. Hall, the Green Wave secondary, specifically, will have their work cut out for them as we’ve mentioned with UCF’s talented receivers. Hall leads Tulane in tackles with 54 and has two picks. Safety Chase Kuerschen has 53 tackels and an interception as well. Look for these two to be “the guys” on the back end.
Over the middle, linebackers Lawrence Graham and Marvin Moody will also have an important task against the Knights’ many bruising running backs. Graham has 48 tackles and 4.5 for loss this season while Moody has 44 total and two sacks.
Up front Patrick Johnson and Cameron Sample will need to get to Gabriel early and often. Johnson leads the team with three sacks and seven tackles for loss. Sample has 34 tackles under his belt this season.
Final Thoughts: This is going to be a tough one for the Wave for a multitude of reasons. UCF has got to be disgruntled right now, coming off an ugly loss to the Golden Hurricane. What better way to prove that was a fluke than a road win in the Big Easy?
The Greenies themselves are coming off a disheartening defeat as well and they need a rebound equally as badly. Can they deliver on Senior Day back at home one last time? It’s going to be tough.
Prediction: UCF 34 - Tulane 27