Location: Spectrum Stadium – Orlando, FL
Date: Saturday, October 24
Time: 2:00 pm ET
Records: UCF 2-2 (1-2 AAC), Tulane 2-3 (0-3 AAC)
Betting Line: UCF -19.5; O/U 72.5
All-Time Series: UCF leads 7-2
Last Meeting: UCF 34, Tulane 31 (November 23, 2019)
Quick Hits: UCF and Tulane are looking to break multi-game losing streaks at the Bounce House this Saturday. Both teams suffered crushing defeats last week, UCF at the hands of Memphis and Tulane against SMU. This game is almost a must-win for both the Knights and the Green Wave to ensure that they do not fall to the bottom of the AAC standings as each team hits the midpoint of the season.
The Knights will once again look to ride the arm of quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who became the first UCF signal-caller to throw for over 500 yards last Saturday against Memphis. In that game Gabriel, who was the Hawaii Gatorade High School Football Player of the Year at Mililani High School, threw for 601 yards and five touchdowns.
Tulane has its most promising passing prospect since Shaun King in the late 1990s in freshman quarterback Michael Pratt. Pratt has stood out particularly due to his ability to extend plays with his legs and accurately throw the ball downfield, a combination of skills Tulane has not seen in its quarterback in decades. In order to have a chance against UCF, though, the Green Wave will need to significantly improve their pass defense, which gave up 439 yards and two touchdowns to SMU last week.
From UCF’s Perspective:
On the offensive side of the ball, UCF will look to build on what is one of the best passing attacks not only in the AAC, but in the country. Sophomore Dillon Gabriel leads an offense that features two receivers, Marlon Williams and Jaylon Robinson, who each have over 500 yards receiving through the first four games of the year.
At Memphis last week, UCF surrendered a double-digit halftime lead for the second game in a row, but this had nothing to do with UCF’s ability to move the ball up-and-down the field. Look for UCF to continue to rely on their passing game until the Green Wave, who have looked particularly weak in pass coverage over the past two weeks against SMU and Houston, can prove to the Knights that they can stop UCF’s air attack.
UCF’s achilles heel has been their defense. This is a unit that ranks 74th in total defense out of 77 FBS teams that have played games so far this season. Against Memphis, the UCF defense gave up 20 or more yards on pass plays nine times. UCF will look to limit Tulane’s Michael Pratt, who has proven that he has the ability to throw the deep ball, to check down throws and shorter routes this Saturday.
Tulane boasts one of the premier rushing attacks in the AAC. UCF ranks 68th out of the 77 teams that have played FBS football this fall in rush defense. Linebackers Eric Mitchell and Eriq Gilyard, who lead the Knights in tackles, will be looking to come back from injuries and put the brakes on Green Wave running backs Stephon Huderson and Cameron Carroll. Huderson and Carroll have combined for 606 yards and nine touchdowns so far this year.
When third-year head coach Josh Heupel was pressed on why his defense has been performing so poorly this year, he said, “We’ve got some young guys who were playing a lot of minutes...guys have to grow up and continue to fight and prepare the right way and put themselves in a better position (to succeed).” If the Knights want to break their losing streak this Saturday, Heupel has to hope that his words become true and that his young defensive unit is able to take a step forward against Tulane.
From Tulane’s Perspective:
The Green Wave will be coming into Orlando off a crushing defeat to SMU last Friday in overtime. Though there is no such thing as a moral victory, Tulane proved to itself against SMU that they can compete with any team in the AAC, going forward the Greenies just have to learn how to finish. This year Tulane has blown a 20 point lead to Navy, a 17 point lead to Houston, and was up on #17 SMU 31-27 with just over 7 minutes left in the 4th quarter. While Tulane is 2-3, this is a team that could easily be 5-0.
While Tulane lost last week at home against SMU, the Wave played their most complete game of the year. Freshman quarterback Michael Pratt continued to look good, throwing for 192 yards, throwing for one touchdown, and rushing for another one. Pratt’s most impressive play was at the beginning of the fourth quarter when he connected with receiver Duece Watts on 3rd and 39 for a first down that put the Wave inside of SMU’s ten yard line.
After looking dormant against Houston, Tulane’s AAC leading rushing attack led by Stephon Huderson was lethal against SMU. Huderson put up 132 yards on the ground on 19 carries for the Green Wave last week. Huderson was also great at picking up blocks on passing downs, something that is important when the offense is being run by a true freshman quarterback. Hopefully against UCF, the Wave could get running backs Cameron Carroll and Amare Jones once again playing up to their potential. Jones, after looking like one of Tulane’s top backs in 2019, has not contributed much to the offense in 2020.
Tulane’s offense is not what stopped them from beating SMU last week, it was the defense, and in particular the secondary. While top pass rusher Patrick Johnson looked impressive as always, picking up one sack and two tackles for a loss against SMU, the rest of the defense looked lethargic. SMU converted 10 of their 18 third-down opportunities against Tulane last week. The Wave gave up 384 passing yards to SMU’s Shane Buechele in New Orleans and were not able to force any interceptions.
The Greenies will be going up against what is probably the most highly regarded air attack in the AAC in Orlando this Saturday. Watch for Tulane’s Larry Brooks and Willie Langham to try and jump some routes in order to get one of the top quarterbacks in the country, Dillon Gabriel, off the field on Saturday. UCF is notorious for its high tempo offense, something Tulane had trouble keeping up with against Houston two weeks ago.
It is imperative that on the offensive side of the ball, Tulane puts together long drives that eat up a lot of clock in order to give their defense a rest. Tulane may not have all of the athletes to match up with UCF’s offensive skill players, but if the Greenies can control the ball for over 65% of the clock and win the turnover battle, they should be in the game late in the fourth quarter at the Bounce House.
Final Thoughts: UCF and Tulane should both come out with a ton of energy this Saturday being that both teams are coming off demoralizing losses. For UCF to win, they will need their young defense to be more reliable. If Eric Mitchell and Eriq Gilyard are back from their injuries that will go a long way to shoring up that unit. The story is much of the same for Tulane, they need their defense to start getting third-down stops and their offense to control the clock. While I think this will be closer than Vegas expects, UCF should be the team that prevails in Orlando on Saturday.
Prediction: UCF 41 - Tulane 34