UCF aims to end rare skid against Tulane
The host UCF Knights and the Tulane Green Wave, who will meet Saturday in an American Athletic Conference game, are both coming off heartbreaking losses.
UCF (2-2, 1-2) lost 50-49 at Memphis. Tulane (2-3, 0-3) lost 37-34 in overtime against unbeaten SMU.
In fact, UCF, which went 25-1 in 2017 and 2018 and 37-4 from 2017 until the end of last month, has finally hit a rough patch. The Knights have lost two consecutive games, their first such skid since 2016.
The Knights allowed Memphis to score 21 fourth-quarter points, including the game-winning touchdown with 68 seconds left.
UCF could have gone back on top, but Daniel Obarski missed wide left on a 40-yard field-goal attempt with 19 seconds remaining.
Some Knights players angrily shouted at Obarski on the sideline, but UCF wide receiver Marlon Williams said he took a different tack.
“I talked to (Obarski) in the locker room, and I told him that one play doesn’t win or lose the game,” Williams said. “Yes, it was the last play of the game, but there were way more mistakes (earlier).”
The positives for UCF included the play of sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who set a school and conference record with 601 passing yards and a school-record five touchdowns. The lefty leads the nation with 439 passing yards per game, and he ranks third with 14 TD throws this season.
UCF wide receivers Jaylon Robinson, Ryan O’Keefe and Williams all caught passes for at least 100 yards. In fact, all had career-high games: O’Keefe with 175 yards, followed by Williams (169) and Robinson (151).
Robinson, who ranks sixth in the nation with an average of 134.8 receiving yards per game, has had at least 100 in all four UCF contests this season.
The Knights lead the conference in scoring (43.8 points per game), yards (636.2), passing yards (439) and turnover margin (plus-seven).
Meanwhile, Tulane — listed as a 20-point underdog against UCF — is 0-2 since switching to true freshman quarterback Michael Pratt, a three-star recruit from Florida (Deerfield Beach).
Pratt, a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder who stepped in for benched senior Keon Howard, has completed 43 of 101 passes for 667 yards, five TDs and two interceptions. Pratt also has six rushing touchdowns.
Just the seventh Tulane quarterback since 1975 who has started at least one game as a true freshman, Pratt has earned praise from Green Wave coach Willie Fritz and his offensive coordinator Will Hall.
“Michael is a great leader,” Hall said. “He’s a tremendous talent and a really good passer. He plays better in games than in practice. There are going to be growing pains, but his future is really bright.”
Pratt, who plays with poise and a swagger, will take aim at a shaky UCF defense that is allowing 33.2 points per game.
Tulane is averaging 36.4 points on offense while allowing a humbling 32.2.
The Green Wave’s rushing offense (229.4) leads the league, and sophomore running back Cam Carroll ranks fourth in the nation with eight touchdowns.
But Tulane’s passing game (154.8) pales in comparison to UCF, and that has at least something to do with Pratt and the transition Tulane is undergoing at quarterback.
Tulane is last in the league in passing efficiency but first in punting average as Ryan Wright is booming the ball at a clip of 46.5 per boot.
Defensively, Tulane is led by 6-3, 250-pound senior Patrick Johnson, a defensive end/outside linebacker who is regarded as an NFL prospect. He leads the league in tackles for losses (7.5) and sacks (6.0). His sacks also rank eighth in the nation.
Tulane’s other defensive end is 6-3, 280-pound Cameron Sample, who is tied for second in the league with three sacks and has 5.0 tackles for losses.
That pass rush will have to be heavy because the Green Wave’s secondary will be severely tested by UCF’s passing game.
Overall, UCF leads its series with Tulane, 7-2, including 4-0 in Orlando, site of Saturday’s game.
–Field Level Media