ORLANDO, Fla. – Even with their game-changing defense running at full tilt on Saturday, UCF (6-5, 4-3) was unable to slow the Golden Hurricane’s high-powered offense in a 35-20 defeat at the hands of Tulsa (8-3, 5-2).
“That was a tough game, still really proud of my guys, this team, and the way they battled,” Head Coach Scott Frost said about the overall effort. “They didn’t quit tonight. Tulsa’s one of the better teams in our league, and we’re consistently competing really well with the best teams in this league.”
The Knights defense kept them close in the first half, buoying a floundering offense with some early insurance.
UCF’s first score of the day came when DJ Killings took advantage of heavy pressure, easily jumping a short route underneath and taking the ball 28 yards back for the score; it was the only touchdown UCF would score before the intermission, keeping the game alive with two Matthew Wright field goals.
It was a great start to a long day. An offense that loses the time of possession battle by six minutes, rushes 33 times for 88 yards (2.67 yards per carry for those counting at home), and is forced to pass 52 times will not do their defense any favors. It was a tough day to be a UCF defender in a battle of up-tempo offense.
“Offensively we kept sputtering and putting the defense right back out there. We’re not a deep enough team to have to go out there that often, that many times on defense,” admitted Frost.
“Not only did we not score, we couldn’t stay on the field long enough to let our defense rest. Against a team like that, sooner or later they’re going to hit something on you offensively.”
Tulsa did indeed find breathing room in the second half. The Golden Hurricane put up three touchdowns in the third quarter, on an 8 yard run and a pair of receptions for 15 and 45 yards. 35 points would be more than enough for Tulsa to seal the game with, as much as the Knights had trouble finding the end zone.
“I think Tulsa did a great job scheming. They hit little gaps that we really couldn’t see. They pulled guards, they did some good things,” begrudgingly admitted Mark Rucker. “They out-schemed us, I think”
Milton and the offense’s struggles against the conference’s most vulnerable unit – Tulsa had been giving up 536.2 total yards per game before Saturday – came as a surprise to Coach Frost, who was adamant that things had been working well during game prep.
“We had a great week of practice, we executed in practice, all of those things went well all week. I thought we were primed to have a really good game offensively. Didn’t happen,” he said.
It took until the fourth quarter for the Knights to pound out their first and only offensive touchdown of the night, a three-yard plunge by Adrian Killins.
UCF’s lead rusher was McKenzie Milton, credited for 48 of the Knights’ 88 total on the ground, all while completing 25-of-52 passes for 233 yards. At a certain point Justin Holman put a helmet on and did everything but tap his coaches on the shoulder to let them know he was ready to come into the game.
“There was discussion, [about] if we should go with Justin, but I’m not going to quit on our guys,” said an adamant Coach Frost. “I think McKenzie has earned the right to be out there. I believe in him, I’m not going to abandon our guys and I think Justin deserves to play too – but McKenzie is our guy and we’re going to stick with him.”
Off the field however, both players and coaches gushed about Holman’s leadership and poise in speaking to his teammates after the game. The message was simple, that after this they players will need to come together in preparation for their last stand in Tampa next week.
Shaquill Griffin demanded more from himself for UCF Nation, saying that he won’t make any of the same mistakes again next week.
He was already focused on getting better for the next challenge, steering away from any revelry over a personal performance that ended with a blocked punt and three tackles while leading a defensive backfield that surrendered just 126 passing yards.
“It’s a rivalry game and we’ve got to play our butts off.”