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There was a reason that UCF Knights’ head coach Josh Heupel accredited Tulsa Golden Hurricanes as the most physical group they would face so far going into this game. Head coach Philip Montgomery’s group confirmed it as they devastated the Knights in their home opener at Orlando, 34-26.
The college football public was promised a bruising contest for the Knights home opener, hosting the Golden Hurricane. Both defenses recorded a safety in the opening quarter, recorded three turnovers and had at least eight tackles for loss.
UCF’s defense came out strong holding the first four drives scoreless, causing turnovers on three of them. The Knights were able to put two touchdowns on the board with one of them to Jacob Harris from Dillon Gabriel under center.
Running back Otis Anderson also salsa danced his way across the goal line from 49 yards out in the second quarter while offensive lineman Cole Schneider lined up as a fullback to smash in a 1-yard score. However, Tulsa managed to create two turnovers of their own within the opening half.
Despite a missed field goal try by last week’s AAC Special Teams Player of the Week, kicker Daniel Obarski, the Knights were able to head into the locker room with a 23-12 lead.
It was Tulsa suddenly striking for six points just before the first half concluded that marked the beginning of the end for UCF. Quarterback Zach Smith only had nine yards, one completion and an interception after the first quarter but hit pay dirt with wide receiver Josh Johnson. Smith would eventually post 17-for-29 with 273 yards and three scores with an interception in addition to a fumble lost.
Then after UCF fumbled the opening kick off for the second half, Smith and the Golden Hurricane breezed in for another end zone strike to Sam Crawford.
As the night went on, Keylon Stokes would lead Tulsa in receiving with 95 yards on six catches and another Tulsa touchdown. Running back T.K. Wilkerson carried the ball 22 times for 86 yards and a trip across the goal line. In the final two quarters, the Golden Hurricane stormed the Knights with a 22-3 run.
UCF did its part to give the visitors opportunities through the contest themselves. Anderson and Johnny Richardson each lost a fumble in the inclement weather. These turnovers were converted into 10 points by Tulsa.
The Knights offense also had ten false start penalties that kept the high-paced group out of sync. As a team, they were flagged 18 times for 124 yards.
In the postgame press conference, Heupel may have put it best. “You do the things we did tonight – coaching staff and players — that’s how you end up on the wrong side of it.”
Despite the offensive woes, UCF field general Dillon Gabriel connected on 28-for-51 with 330 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
While Tre Nixon missed his second consecutive game, freshman wide receiver Jaylon Robinson was a bright spot in the loss as he recorded his third straight 100-yard game, posting three catches for 111 yards. Marlon Williams did his part with nine receptions for 98 yards.
This outcome for UCF has a number of tough consequences. This will likely keep them out of the College Football Playoff conversation for the rest of the year. The Knights also now have an “L” in their conference record.
Additionally, any whispers that Gabriel had as a Heisman Trophy candidate have been silenced.
There are still opportunities for UCF to have a worthwhile season. Winning the AAC is still on the table, and with that, the potential to make it to a New Year’s Six bowl game is still a possibility.
It’s safe to say that as unpredictable as 2020 has been, that the Knights have spent their margin for error already.
Going into the bye this coming weekend, the Knights will have a chance for their roster to heal up. On top of Nixon missing time since the season opener, Williams was banged up on the last play of the game, running back Greg McCrae left early, defensive back Antwan Collier was sidelined and safety Richie Grant left the game with what looked to be a concussion.
Hopefully, they can all be ready for action before the Memphis Tigers game in Tennessee on October 17th.