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Tulane’s defense struggles in loss to UCF

The high-octane Knights proved to be too much as they toppled the Green Wave 51-34 in Orlando.

NCAA Football: Tulane at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Wave knew that they would need a lot of offensive production in order to keep pace with a dynamic UCF squad that, going in, was favored by nearly three touchdowns. Tulane was 0-3 in conference play up to this point so they couldn’t pull any punches either. Furthermore, freshman quarterback Michael Pratt knew a lot of that responsibility would ultimately fall on his shoulders.

With all that in mind, if you had told Willie Fritz that his team would be up 14-10 on the Knights in the Bounce House after the first 15 minutes, he would have probably would have taken it no questions asked. The Wave offense looked darn near perfect in the opening quarter. Pratt started six-for-eight for 114 yards and two touchdowns against the UCF defense. He spread the ball to six different receivers in that span.

To add to the great start, Tulane’s defense forced Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel into some difficult throws and recorded a big sack on fourth down via Cam Sample. The high-powered UCF offense’s only TD in the first came from a Gabriel bomb to receiver Marlon Williams. Outside of that, the Green Wave D was solid.

NCAA Football: Tulane at Central Florida
Michael Pratt (#7) threw three touchdowns against UCF on Saturday.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The second quarter, though, began to spell a different story. Gabriel uncorked a deep ball to Jacob Harris to set the offense up inside the five. The very next play Greg McCrae plowed in to put the Knights back on top. The Greenies only went backward on the next drive and before long, UCF had the ball again and, yet again, found the end zone. They did so twice more without a Tulane response and by halftime the Knights had blown open a 37-14 lead.

Yes, that’s how fast things can turn when playing UCF. Gabriel was phenomenal when all was said and done. He finished the day with over 400 passing yards and five touchdowns to his name along with no interceptions.

Coming out of halftime, the Wave did what they had to to at least stay within reach. Pratt led a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a touchdown when Tyrick James recovered a Stephon Huderson fumble in the end zone.

The Knights, however, answered right back with a scoring drive of their own. The teams traded TDs once more but UCF was too far ahead for the Wave to play catch up. Try as they might, Tulane was not able to match the Knights blow for blow and, despite putting up another 20 points in the second half, things ended with yet another AAC loss for gang from New Orleans.

The Good: Pratt has proven so far to be the right building piece for the Green Wave as they navigate through life without Justin McMillan. Despite the defeat, the Wave’s true freshman had another solid day behind center, throwing for 215 yards and three touchdowns. Sure, there was a pick in there but this is all invaluable learning experience that Pratt is facing right now. These sorts of games and performances will serve him well as his season and career progresses.

The Bad: Big plays were a problem all afternoon for the Tulane defense. Three of UCF’s five passing touchdowns came from 30 yards or more and on the whole the Knights capitalized on many more that didn’t go for scores but certainly led to them. Getting gashed for nearly 700 total yards and 36 total first downs will not win you many games. Things need to improve in this department.

The Ugly: We hate to say it but Tulane’s season is slipping away right before their eyes. Now at 0-4 in conference play, the dream of participating in the AAC title game is all but dead. Even a bowl appearance is now in jeopardy. Don’t completely throw in the towel just yet, though, Wave fans. Remember that Willie Fritz and company strung together a 5-1 record in the latter half of the 2018 season to reach bowl eligibility after starting 1-5. All hope is not lost but Tulane better right the ship fast if they want another postseason berth.

Up Next: The Greenies (2-4) will return home next Saturday to take on Temple (1-2) in a Halloween day matchup.