On Saturday, the Knights travel back to Oklahoma for the Conference USA championship. They will have to beat a team that thoroughly outplayed them, but managed still to squeek by by only two points in a 23-21 win.
Every Thursday we take a look at two key areas – one offense and one defensive – that could play an especially important role in Saturday’s game. Today, we’ll examine the match-ups for the rematch at Tulsa.
Knights offensive line vs. Tulsa front seven
UCF just did not get it done up front last time they were in Oklahoma. At halftime, the Knights had managed zero yards rushing. For the game they totaled just 1.9 yards per carry. Linebackers Shawn Jackson and DeAundre Brown combined for 19 tackles and three tackles for loss. UCF must be better at playing up to speed against the Golden Hurricane, and especially on sustaining blocks and getting to the second level. It is critical that UCF is able to run the ball more effectively this time around. When Latavius Murray is going, it brings stability to the offense and it keeps the unit on the field. Holding the ball and moving the chains, even if it doesn’t end with points, will be important in keeping the defense fresh and changing field position. Tulsa also had four sacks last time these two teams played, and pass protection will be just as vital as Blake Bortles needs to stay upright and have time to find receivers.
UCF secondary vs. Tulsa passing game
The last time these two teams faced off, the Golden Hurricane remained the run-first team it has been all season and they were effective in grinding out yards. But the most damage came through wide receiver Keyarris Garrett, who caught seven passes for 130 yards and three touchdowns – including a broken coverage that resulted in a 70-yard score. The concerns about those breakdowns were relatively minor before last week’s win against UAB, a game in which the Blazers passed for a stunning 510 yards. Again and again receivers found a way to get open across the middle of the field against UCF, and the poor tackling issues that had flared up before were at their worst. Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship spoke the other day about the continued growth of QB Cody Green, and UCF has to be able to stop the big plays and limit the passing game, if only because they will have their best chance at winning if they force Tulsa to go to the air more often. The focus will still be on slowing the run game, but if you give up huge chunks of yardage through the air then those efforts will be for naught.
A quickie look at how the teams compare statistically:
UCF rushing offense (182.2 yards per game) vs. Tulsa rushing defense (120.0 ypg.)
UCF passing offense (224.3 ypg.) vs Tulsa passing defense (235.9 ypg.)
UCF scoring offense (35.9 points per game) vs. Tulsa scoring defense (23.9 ppg.)
UCF third down conversions (47%) vs. Tulsa third down defense (37%)
Tulsa rushing offense (236.1 ypg.) vs. UCF rushing defense (151.8 ypg.)
Tulsa passing offense (226.2 ypg.) vs. UCF passing defense (223.2 ypg.)
Tulsa scoring offense (35.2 ppg.) vs UCF scoring defense (21.6 ppg.)
Tulsa third down conversions (37%) vs. UCF third down defense (39%)
UCF turnover ratio (24-14, +10) vs. Tulsa turnover ratio (23-21, +2)