What the Knights Learned at Tulane

Six American Athletic Conference football teams went into the weekend with perfect 5-0 records at home.
Now there are five.
That's thanks to UCF's 34-31 triumph at Tulane Saturday afternoon—as the Knights led wire to wire and by as many as 17 points early in the second half.
How did they do it? No turnovers, a drastic reduction in penalties and a quick start that put the visitors on top 10-0 out of the gate. With quarterback Dillon Gabriel using his running skills more effectively than in any other game in 2019, the Knights also produced their share of signature big-chunk plays. Marlon Williams, Gabe Davis and Otis Anderson all had receptions good for at least 30 yards—and Anderson had a run for 44 and a punt return for 36. Meanwhile, Gabriel had yet another 300-yard passing day, with his 24 completions one short of his season high.
Here are some final thoughts on those areas and more from the UCF (8-3 overall, 5-2 AAC) victory at Tulane:

  1. Protect that home field. Now that the Knights are finished with their half-dozen road assignments (they finished 3-3 in that category with wins at FAU, Temple and Tulane), they can tun their attention to their 20-game Spectrum Stadium win streak as the regular-season finale there Friday night versus USF looms. The only team in the country with a longer streak is Clemson at 21—and the Tigers are done for the year in their home stadium (they play Saturday at South Carolina to finish their regular season). 
  2. The Knights are doing better in the turnover area than we realized. It was noteworthy that the UCF win at Tulane featured zero turnovers, only the third time in 2019 that has been the case and the first time since the opening two games of the season versus FAMU and FAU. But it's also worth noting that, despite Josh Heupel's concerns at times in that area, no team in the AAC has turned the ball over fewer times than the Knights (14). SMU also has 14 and Cincinnati 15
  3. And the Knights continue to hang with . . . . UCF has scored 64 touchdowns to date (only Ohio State with 74, Alabama 72, LSU 70, Clemson 68 and Oklahoma 65 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 eight. Here's where UCF stands in the various top 10s:
    --1st in tackles for loss (9.4 per game)
    --4th in total offense at 536.4 yards per game (Oklahoma is atop that list at 574.7)
    --5th in third-down defense percentage at .280
    --6th in scoring offense at 43.8 (Ohio State tops that chart at 49.4)
    --8th in passing yards per completion at 15.36 (Air Force is #1 at 24.64)
    --8th in passing offense at 321.2 (Washington State is #1 at 456.7)
    --9th in total first downs with 280 
  4. And on the individual side. . . . Here's where UCF players rank among national statistical leaders this week:--Dillon Gabriel 4th in passing yards per completion (15.69 each, #1 in AAC)
    --Otis Anderson 3rd in punt returns (15.0 each, #1 in AAC)
    --Gabriel Davis 5th in receiving yards (1,135, #1 in AAC)
    --Dylan Barnas 6th in field-goal percentage (.917, #1 in AAC)
  5. The unsung hero. He doesn't get much attention because UCF puts touchdowns on the board as well as anyone in the nation, but first-year field-goal kicker Dylan Barnas has been utterly dependable in that department in 2019. He is now 11 for 12 in that category, with that level of accuracy leading the AAC. Barnas' lone miss was on a 37-yard attempt in the second game of the season at FAU. Since that time he has connected on nine in a row. He's right up there with kickers from Wake Forest, Indiana and Oklahoma (who have yet to miss in 2019) and those from TCU, Washington State and Penn State who, like him, have only a single miss.