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As the UCF Knights took the field in Orlando hosting the Tulane Green Wave, there was only a single goal: breaking the losing skid from the past two weeks.
UCF took advantage of a lot of intangible motivational factors. Playing at home in the Bounce House, Quarterback McKenzie Milton’s medical clearance to play after his injury in November 2018, and donning the special edition “Space Game” uniforms fueled the team’s spirits to rocket past the Green Wave, 51-34.
Knights Head Coach Josh Heupel’s offense went 69 yards exclusively on the ground for the Daniel Obarski 23-yard field goal. But from then on out, it became the Marlon Williams and Dillon Gabriel show on offense. With the running attack setting up the pass, Gabriel went 26-of-40 for five touchdowns and 422 yards.
174 of those yards went to Williams on nine catches, with three of them for end zone connections. Running back Greg McCrae also pulled his weight, gaining 162 yards on 25 carries.
While the offense was all systems go, the defense needed some time to recalibrate as Tulane’s Michael Pratt led his crew to a strong start from under center. He was able to match UCF shot-for-shot throughout the first quarter for a 14-10 Green Wave lead.
However, the Knights buckled down and went seven of eight plays grounding the visitor’s ability to run the ball. This was highlighted by back-to-back sacks from defensive tackle Kenny Turnier during that stretch and led to a scoreless conclusion of the half for Tulane.
From that point on, it was UCF continuing to fire away at a rate higher than the Green Wave could rise above. Pratt did still manage 14-of-24 for 215 yards with three trips for six and an interception. Stephon Huderson also managed a respectable 88 yards on 14 carries. Though it could be argued that Head Coach Willie Fritz didn’t do his group any favors by attempting four onside kicks, he did have a good game plan to put points on the board despite the losing effort.
From here, the Knights are now in a better position to hold their heads up. Coach Heupel said this on the win after the game: “I thought we played our most complementary game together – not perfect – this game is never going to be perfect. But three phases; everybody playing for one another, I thought it was our best.”
With extremely high expectations from the fans, there are certain to still be criticisms. Yet, the most important goals for the team were achieved: growth in the defense with all the injury and roster adjustments, a continuation of discipline with only four penalties for 20 yards, and a conference win to keep the longshot hopes alive for a chance at the American Conference Championship.