The Knights, at 7-3 and 4-2 in conference, were knocked out of contention in the division with last week's Cincinnati win over South Florida, but they can keep hopes alive for a 10-win season with a road victory on Saturday. Tulane is 6-4 (3-3 AAC) after a 29-21 road loss to Temple last week.
Saturday's contest in New Orleans will be just the ninth meeting between the schools. UCF holds a 6-2 edge all-time and won the last meeting, 37-6 in Orlando, back in 2016. Tulane hasn't won a game in the series since 2006.
UCF at Tulane
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 23 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: UCF -6
When UCF Has the Ball
Despite not living up to the New Year’s Six bowl expectations, UCF has fielded an effective offense that has been held to fewer than 31 points just once this season. UCF ranks fifth nationally in yards per game and seventh in points per game. This season, the Knights have been led by freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel. Gabriel ranks 11th nationally in passer rating and seventh in yards per attempt to go with 24 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions. All seven of those interceptions, however, have come in UCF’s three losses, including two at Tulsa.
The skill players around Gabriel may be the best in the American Athletic Conference. UCF has four different running backs with more than 400 yards rushing this season. Otis Anderson, Adrian Killins, Bentavious Thompson, and Greg McCrae have combined for more than 2,000 yards on the ground this season on 6.5 yards per carry and 24 rushing touchdowns. Out wide, junior Gabriel Davis is the AAC’s leading receiver with 1,060 yards on 59 catches with 10 touchdowns.
In conference losses this season, Tulane is yielding 39 points per game but ranks in the top five in the AAC in both scoring and total defense. Senior safety P.J. Hall has been the best player for Tulane on that side of the football as he leads or is tied for the team lead in tackles, forced fumbles and interceptions.
The Green Wave have been effective against the pass as they’re yielding the second-fewest yards per game through the air in the conference. Hall, Larry Brooks, and Jaylon Monroe all have two interceptions. Defensive end Patrick Johnson leads the team with three sacks. Among AAC teams, only Tulsa has gotten to the opposing quarterback less often than Tulane. Pass protection has been a surprising weakness for UCF.
When Tulane Has the Ball
Tulane ranks in the top five in the AAC in both scoring and total offense. How the Green Wave go depends a lot on the play of quarterback Justin McMillan. McMillan is more of a threat with his legs than his arm as he sometimes struggles with accuracy and turnovers. In last week’s loss at Temple, McMillan was just 11-for-27 passing for 103 yards and an interception. McMillan has been intercepted 10 times this year, but he has 25 total touchdowns. With 552 yards on the ground, McMillan is also Tulane’s leading rusher.
Running back Corey Dauphine has more than 450 yards rushing for the Green Wave on 9.4 yards per carry, but his status has been in question since going down in a win over Tulsa earlier this month. Dauphine carried the ball just three times in Saturday’s loss at Temple. Darius Bradwell, a 230-pound senior, got the lion’s share of the carries last week. At receiver, Darnell Mooney leads the team with 34 catches for 574 yards and five touchdown receptions.
Statistically, UCF is a very good defensive team, but the Knights allowed 34 points in the loss to Tulsa two weeks ago and 35 to Pittsburgh earlier in the season. Senior defensive end Brendon Hayes has been the best pass rusher for UCF this season as he’s recorded a team-high 6.5 sacks. The Knights have been solid against both the pass and the run, but they’ll look to force McMillan to try to beat them with his arm.
After recording one tackle shy of 100 last season, senior Nate Evans ranks second in the AAC with 85 total stops so far this year. Although he’s been relatively quiet this season, safety Richie Grant is still one of the conference’s best players. Junior cornerback Aaron Robinson leads the team with three interceptions. The Knights are undefeated this season when forcing multiple turnovers.
Justin McMillan can be a special talent for Tulane, but for the Green Wave to pull the upset, he is going to have to make big-time throws — something he hasn’t shown he can do with any consistency. The Knights are almost impossible to stop when they don’t turn the ball over, and against high-powered offenses like Memphis and Navy, Tulane has really struggled. When all is said and done, the Green Wave simply won’t have enough firepower to keep up with UCF.
Prediction: UCF 45, Tulane 26
(Top photo courtesy of UCF Athletics)