UCF - Tulane: Five Things to Watch

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It's the home stretch now.
With an open date ahead following a Friday night loss at Cincinnati in early October, UCF's football team had maybe more time than it wanted to regroup and plot its next series of moves.
The same set of circumstances ensued when the Knights lost a second Friday night road date in early November, this time falling at Tulsa in UCF's most recent outing.
So, after more than two weeks between games and with only a pair of contests remaining in the regular season, UCF has an important chance to change the narrative on the Knights' away-from-home fortunes. All three UCF defeats in 2019 have come away from the friendly confines of Spectrum Stadium where the Knights have won 20 in a row (second longest home win streak in the country).
Here are some areas to watch when UCF (7-3 overall, 4-2 AAC) heads to Tulane (6-4 overall, 3-3 AAC) to take on the Green Wave Saturday (11 a.m. CT on CBSSN):

  1. The Knights know what needs to change. It's not hard to see where UCF's struggles have come on the road, and Knights head coach Josh Heupel has been open about how his team needs to change those equations in order to be successful in New Orleans:
    --Turnovers: In five home games this season, UCF is plus-four in turnovers. In five road game, that figure flips to minus-five.
    --Penalties: Over the last four games, UCF has been hit with an average of 10 penalties per game (15 more than its four opponents over that span) for an average of 77 yards per game. The Knights' most recent outing at Tulsa produced season highs of 15 penalties and 120 penalty yards.
    --Production: Only four times in 2019 has UCF been limited to 468 total offense yards or fewer, and three of those have been road games (Pitt, Cincinnati and Tulsa).
  2. Protecting the football. All seven of the interceptions freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel has thrown have come away from home (to go with nine TD passes). Meanwhile, his TD-to-INT ratio at home is 15-0. Gabriel's completion percentage is .685 at home versus .542 on the road. That means Gabriel and the Knights need to be smart with the ball in New Orleans. 
  3. Protecting the home field. Six AAC teams are a perfect 5-0 at home so far in 2019. UCF is one of those—and the Knights have a chance next week against USF to make it a perfect six for six. Tulane also is 5-0 at home this fall—and the Green Wave has not had a perfect home season since 1998. The other 5-0 AAC programs are Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU and Navy. Overall Tulane has a current seven-game homefield win streak.
  4. The skinny on Tulane. The Green Wave, winner of five of its first six games in 2019,  will showcase the second most productive rushing attack in the AAC at 255.4 yards per game (11th nationally). Tulane also rates second in the AAC in pass defense (206.9 yards allowed per game) and 15th nationally in red-zone offense (.917). These are two of the top five scoring offenses in the AAC (with Tulane at 34.9 points per game overall, including 45.0 in home games) and two of the top four offenses (the Green Wave averages 459.5 yards per game overall, including 540.8 in home contests). Tulane quarterback Justin McMillan leads the team in rushing (574 yards and five scores). After seven wins in 2018, a Tulane victory over UCF would give the Green Wave consecutive seven-win campaigns for the first time since 1997-98. UCF's lone previous visit to Yulman Stadium in 2015 produced a 45-31 Green Wave triumph. 
  5. Motivation both ways. It's not hard to see, after listening to seniors like Jordan Johnson and Nate Evans this week, that as the end of their careers looms, there's plenty of pride involved here. Johnson and Evans talked openly about the importance of finishing strong in 2019. It's a safe conclusion that they and other seniors who have only a handful of outings remaining to compete for the Knights appreciate that these become especially meaningful events. Meanwhile, the Tulane seniors are seeking a win that would make them the winningest Green Wave graduating class since 2000.