University of Central Florida head coach Gus Malzahn believes in running the football, which he says you have to do to win a championship.
He also believes in fullbacks, but then you already knew that.
“Well, we ran the football really good against the best rushing defense in our league and our fullback played really good tonight,” said Malzahn on Saturday evening. “I mean Alec Holler was the man out there, just did a super job. So that’s just what I believe in, I mean there’s other great offenses that believe in different stuff – I like having that fullback in there.”
Holler was instrumental in the holes created for the likes of mobile quarterback John Rhys Plumlee and running backs RJ Harvey and Isiah Bowser who, along with Ryan O’Keefe and Johnny Richardson all contributed to the season-high 336 rushing yards. Plumlee also added 132 passing yards and one touchdown when he connected with Javon Baker, who finished with five catches for 54 yards.
“I need to say this, our offensive line’s a really good offense,” commended Malzahn. “I know early on people were questioning this and that, it took them a little bit to gel but the last three or four weeks they’ve played great football. To have that many yards rushing against that team says a lot about those guys. Couldn’t be more proud of those guys.”
The second-year coach also praised Plumlee’s ability on the ground – the senior quarterback rushed for 176 yards to set the program record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game. The previous mark of 122 was held by Vic Penn, who accomplished the feat against Middle Tennessee in 1999.
“I think John Rhys is a special talent, there’s no doubt he can run that effective and he’s a tough guy too,” said Malzahn.
The Knights handed Tulane their first conference loss as the Green Wave struggled to stop UCF as well as consistently put points on the board themselves. It was slightly stunning, given Tulane entered the contest boasting the best redzone defense in the country. But the Knights deftly moved downfield and marched into the endzone readily, going 5-6 in the redzone.
“We had to run the football to beat them,” said Malzahn. “If you can’t run the football, they drop eight. And they’ve got veteran after veteran on that back end and they keep everything in front of them, they play mainly zone and they’re good at what they do so we felt real strong that we had to run the football. We felt real strong that our quarterback John Rhys had to run the football. And that’s what happened.”
Malzahn did credit Tulane for the fight they put up. Quarterback Michael Pratt finished 23-39 for 236 yards and three touchdowns while running back Tyjae Spears racked up 130 yards off of eight carries. It was the fifth time this season and the fourth straight game the Louisiana native has gone over 100 yards rushing. Tulane has now run for 100 yards as a team in 82 of the last 86 games.
27,317 fans came out to watch the top-25 matchup Saturday afternoon, which ranks as the fifth-largest ever at Yulman Stadium. But 20,000 or so felt like they were dressed in black and gold and not of the fleur-de-lisvariety.
“It was like a home game in the second half my god, so happy and so thankful that our guys traveled,” enthused Malzahn. “It was a really big advantage for us. Our fans knew how big this game was too. That was a great feeling.”
The loss knocks Tulane into a tie with UCF and Cincinnati for the conference lead. Tulane has a short week before hosting a gun-slinging SMU squad Thursday night. The Knights head home to host Navy and prepare for the potent triple option Saturday night.