Green Wave, Knights each look to bounce back from heartbreaking losses
The Green Wave had No. 17 SMU on the ropes last week in New Orleans before a late field goal propelled the Mustangs to a 37-34 victory. Tulane comes in with a record of 2-3 but 0-3 in American Athletic Conference (AAC) play. Earlier this season, the Green Wave let a 24-point lead slip away in a loss to Navy.
At 2-2 (1-2 AAC), UCF is off to its worst four-game start since 2016. The Knights have led by at least 18 points in each of their two losses this season. Last week, UCF led Memphis 35-14 before falling 50-49 on a late touchdown pass from Memphis quarterback Brady White and a missed field goal in the final seconds.
The Knights have won five of the last six against Tulane, but things didn't come easy last year. UCF led by 17 points early in the fourth quarter before holding on for a 34-31 victory. The last win for Tulane in the series came in 2015. The Green Wave have never beaten UCF in Orlando.
Tulane at UCF
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 24 at 2 p.m. ET
When Tulane Has the Ball
Tulane ranks just eighth in the American Athletic Conference in total offense this season, but when it comes to scoring points, the Green Wave average better than 36 per game. Michael Pratt and Keon Howard have split time at quarterback this season for Tulane. Both are completing fewer than 44 percent of their passes, but where Tulane has excelled has been on the ground.
Averaging more than 229 yards per game, Tulane leads the AAC in rushing offense. Each member of the three-headed monster of running backs in Stephon Huderson, Cameron Carroll and Tyjae Spears currently has more than 250 yards on the ground for the season. Huderson and Spears are each averaging better than seven yards per carry. Carroll, who weighs in at 225 pounds, has been the workhorse thus far with a team-high 60 carries and seven rushing touchdowns – good for fourth nationally. Huderson leads the team with 309 yards. With 18 rushing touchdowns, Tulane ranks behind only Army nationally in that category.
Tulane's ability to run the football could spell bad news for UCF. The Knights are yielding more than 213 rushing yards per game this season. Among AAC schools, only Navy gives up more. The Knights gave up their average last week in their loss to Memphis. Up front, UCF has not played all that well defensively, but it does have solid linebackers and one of the more underrated safeties in the country in Richie Grant. Redshirt senior defensive tackle Kenny Turnier leads UCF with two sacks thus far.
Eric Mitchell and Eriq Gilyard are the top two tacklers for UCF. Gilyard has two forced fumbles this season. In the secondary, Grant has two of the Knights' four interceptions. For each of the last four seasons, UCF has been one of the AAC's best when it comes to turnover margin. The Knights have forced 13 turnovers in four games this season. That leads the AAC and ranks behind only Syracuse nationally.
When UCF Has the Ball
Aside from a rough second half against Tulsa, UCF has been virtually unstoppable on offense. The Knights lead the nation in total offense, averaging more than 635 yards per game, and are fifth in scoring offense at nearly 44 points per contest. Sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel is the straw that stirs the drink for UCF. Gabriel's 1,756 passing yards lead the nation and his 14 touchdown passes rank third nationally behind Texas' Sam Ehlinger and Clemson's Trevor Lawrence.
It should be noted that McKenzie Milton, who led the Knights to a perfect season in 2017, took snaps this week in practice for the first time since a gruesome leg injury late in 2018 and could have a small role in the offense before long. When it comes to the skill positions, there is no shortage of talent for UCF. Running back Bentavious Thompson did not play in last week's contest against Memphis, but Greg McCrae and Otis Anderson have combined for nearly 500 yards on the ground. At wide receiver, Jaylon Robinson and Marlon Williams both rank in the top six nationally in receiving yards, combing for more than 1,100 yards and seven touchdown grabs. Jacob Harris also has three TD catches for the Knights.
Through the early parts of the season, Tulane's defense ranks in the middle of the pack in the AAC. Against the run, the Green Wave are allowing just three yards per carry. Against the pass, however, only Memphis gives up more yards per pass attempt than Tulane. The Green Wave's defensive strength is up front. Tulane currently leads the AAC in sacks with 18 and tackles for a loss with 49. Those totals also put the Green Wave in the top five nationally in both categories.
Senior defensive end Patrick Johnson leads the conference and ranks third in the country with six sacks. On the other side, Cameron Sample has been solid with three sacks. Linebacker Marvin Moody leads the team with 36 total tackles, but Dorian Williams also is having a solid season. Williams has 35 stops and two sacks. Safety Macon Clark has two of Tulane's three interceptions and the team's only defensive touchdown.
Tulane has stood toe-to-toe with some very good opponents this season, but UCF provides the best offense that the Green Wave have seen this season. The Knights have virtually unstoppable and that will put a lot of pressure on Tulane's offense to sustain drives. For the Green Wave to have a chance, they must pressure UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel early and often and find a way to get off the field on third down.
Prediction: UCF 49, Tulane 31
Podcast: Week 8 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.