What the Knights Learned at Tulsa

Not so long ago UCF football fans reveled in the fact their Knights had won 10 straight true road games in opponent stadiums—including perfect marks in that category in both 2017 and 2018.
That trend continued in UCF's 2019 away-from-home opener in a surprisingly easy victory at Florida Atlantic—and, to the Knights' full credit, it also happened last month in an overwhelming triumph over a 5-2 Temple team in a game that ranks as UCF's best start-to-finish level of excellence this season.
But, the rest of the Knights' road ventures this fall? They've been a bit more complicated than that. Those other three have been decided by a combined seven points—with UCF coming out on the wrong side all three times, including Friday night at Tulsa in a game the visitors led by 11 points at halftime.
Here are some final thoughts on those areas and more from the UCF (7-3 overall, 4-2 AAC) defeat in Tulsa against the Golden Hurricane:

  1. There's a fine line away from home. UCF has found out the hard way this season that, especially on the road, there's an extremely fine line between victory or defeat—no matter the opponent. One more play here or there, one less missed assignment there or here—and the Knights easily could be undefeated. Both Pitt and Tulsa scored the winning points in the final two minutes. Yet it also shows that elusive 60-minute success level required in all three phases of the game. Meanwhile, Knight fans can celebrate the fact their team has won 20 in a row at home--and only Clemson with 21 has a longer streak. 
  2. Turnovers have been untimely. Consider this: UCF freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel has yet to throw an interception in Spectrum Stadium—against 15 touchdown passes. Away from those friendly confines, however, it has not been so simple. All seven of Gabriel's interceptions have come in the Knights' three losses (two each at Pittsburgh and Tulsa and three at Cincinnati). It's hard to argue with Gabriel's overall 24-to-seven TD pass-to-interception ratio—in fact, it matches up with just about anyone in the country. Gabriel had let 115 consecutive throws go without a pickoff until Friday night. Yet it hasn't been as easy on the road. Overall, UCF ranks 69th nationally this week in turnover margin (at minus one)—not great, but not awful. But, in the three road losses, the Knights are minus-seven, and that doesn't include a blocked punt at Pitt that turned into a Panther TD. That reality has been tough to overcome.
  3. The Knights have hurt themselves at times. In half of UCF's games this year the Knights have committed eight or more penalties for 72 or more yards. Twice they've been called for 11 penalties and once (in the loss at Tulsa) for 15. NCAA statistics confirm that only five teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision have been called more times or for more yards than have the Knights. Those are raw numbers UCF needs to improve to help their chances of finishing strong.
  4. And the Knights continue to hang with . . . . UCF is a great show to watch—the Knights have scored 60 touchdowns to date (only Ohio State with 62 and Clemson with 61 have more). National statistical rankings again list UCF among names in the conversation at the upper echelon of this week's NCAA numbers. Overall, the Knights rank in the national top 10 in seven different NCAA team categories—and lead the AAC in five. Here's where UCF stands in the various top 10s:
    --2nd in tackles for loss (9.4 per game—Ohio State is #1 at 9.4, percentage points ahead)
    --3rd in total first downs with 257 (Clemson and SMU are #1 with 265)
    --3rd in total offense at 541.6 yards per game (Oklahoma is atop that list at 587.3)
    --7th in third-down defense percentage at .286
    --7th in scoring offense at 44.8 (Ohio State tops that chart at 51.0)
    --8th in passing yards per completion at 15.68 (Navy is #1 at 23.97)
    --9th in passing offense at 321.4 (Washington State is #1 at 433.1)
  5. And on the individual side. . . . Here's where UCF players rank among national statistical leaders this week:--Nevelle Clarke 10th in passes defended (1.4 per game, #1 in AAC)
    --Dillon Gabriel 3rd in passing yards per completion (16.03 each, #1 in AAC), 7th in passing yards (2,806), 9th in passing TDs (24), 10th in passing efficiency (164.7)
    --Otis Anderson 4th in punt returns (13.7 each, #1 in AAC)
    --Gabriel Davis 3rd in receiving yards (1.060, #1 in AAC), 8th in receiving TDs (10)