Replay: Hurricane Strikes Hard Again

There's no other way to look at it.
Tulsa has UCF's number in football right now.
Coming into Saturday night's Knight home opener, the Golden Hurricane had been the last team to win in the Bounce House, that one coming in 2016.
The last team to defeat UCF overall? That, too, had been Tulsa in a November 2019 night game on a chilly Oklahoma night.
Then, on a mild but mostly wet and humid evening in Orlando, history repeated itself.
A year ago, the Hurricane held visiting UCF without a second-half touchdown in twice overcoming an 11-point deficit to win.
Saturday night, the Knights broke out to a 16-0 advantage and led 23-5 late in the second period—but visiting Tulsa again kept homestanding UCF from notching any TDs after halftime.
The Hurricane won 34-26, as the Knights for the second straight season find themselves with a conference loss on their record after the first weekend in October.
Maybe the Knights should have known what was coming their way after a first period that may have been the most bizarre seen at the Bounce House:
--Each team technically had nine possessions in the first 15 minutes alone (Tulsa had that many in the final three periods combined.).
--Both teams recorded a safety.
--Neither team ran off more than four plays in a row (each team did that once).
--Neither team held the ball for more than 1:46 before it went over to the opposition.
--At one point there were turnovers on three consecutive plays.
--Tulsa committed three turnovers in a span of 2:15.
--The Knights ran their fumbles recovered season total to eight (currently ranking number one in the nation in that category).
One of those lost fumbles by Tulsa turned into an eight-yard scoring drive. UCF notched a second TD on a 49-yard Otis Anderson run that qualified as the longest rushing gain of the evening (for either team) and matched the longest Tulsa play of the night. There were 14 combined punts in the entire game--seven in the opening period. The first quarter featured 13 drives of eight or fewer yards (four that produced negative yardage).
UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel (he finished with 28 completions on a career-high 51 pass attempts for 330 yards, one TD, one INT) found seven different receivers among his first eight connections—including key strikes of 45 and 53 yards to Jaylon Robinson.
The first of those marked the biggest play in a 73-yard drive that ended in a 21-yard missed field goal by Daniel Obarski (his only miss so far in 2020).
The second keynoted a 96-yard TD excursion that ended when, after starting with first and goal from the Tulsa one, offensive lineman Cole Schneider bulled his way over the goal line on fourth down.
To that point, the Hurricane passing game had been largely ineffective. Quarterback Zach Smith, at that juncture, had completed only five of 12 throws for a paltry 21 yards. Six of his first eight attempts fell incomplete and one was intercepted (by Richie Grant, the ninth in his career).
But someone flipped the switch in the final two minutes of the half.
Smith completed three straight passes for 19, 21 and then 48 yards--the last one a TD throw to Josh Johnson.
Still, the Knights led 23-12 at intermission—and Gabriel had 161 passing yards, only seven fewer than Tulsa's entire total-offense figure.
"Keep forcing the turnovers," said UCF coach Josh Heupel at the break. "Offensively, we've got to find a way to pound the rock here a little bit. We said 60 minutes of football--they get all of us the next 30 minutes."
"You're playing your butts off right now, but like anything else you've got to take another step. Change the changeable in the second half. Step up to the challenge each play," said Knights' defensive coordinator Randy Shannon.
But it started all wrong in the second half when Tulsa ripped the ball away from Johnny Richardson on the return of the third-period kickoff. The Hurricane needed a single play—a 34-yard Smith TD pass—to make it a four-point game.
The Knights rebounded nicely with their best drive of the second half—a 67-yarder (including two pass interference penalties when the visitors could not fairly defend Robinson) that ended in a 26-yard Obarski field goal with more than 11 minutes remaining in the third period.
UCF would not score again.
Tulsa took its first lead on a 75-yard march that included two Smith completions for a combined 70 yards.
The next four UCF possessions ended in punts—none of the drives covering more than 32 yards. One of those led to the final Tulsa TD—on Smith's third scoring pass of the evening on a march in which he completed all three of his passes for 38 more yards.
Then, starting on their own 32, the Hurricane ran the ball eight times in nine plays and finished with a 34-yard field goal that made it 34-26 at the 1:30 mark.
UCF's final offensive attempt reached the Tulsa 23 but ended in an end-zone incompletion and left Marlon Williams (he had another nine catches for 98 yards and now ranks second in the country in both receiving yards and catches per game) in a heap in the end zone for a long period after the game ended.
Anderson ran for 84 yards (and a score), Robinson had his third straight game with 100-plus receiving yards, Eric Mitchell had 13 tackles and linebacker mate Eriq Gilyard added a dozen.
But none of it was enough, with 18 more penalties for 124 yards marked off against the UCF cause.
The rain mostly quit after halftime, but the Knights simply couldn't create much for the UCF student section to cheer about. Even with 455 net yards, offensive rhythm proved elusive for the home team.
At six minutes until midnight the Knights' 21-game homefield win streak (second in the nation behind 23 by Clemson) officially came to an end.
"It does hurt because you invest," Heupel told the team after it was over. "During the course of a game you get one opportunity and it feels different every time. Nobody wanted that outcome—nobody prepared for that.
"There are way too many things we all did that put us in a position like that where it comes down to a chance at the end.
"In this moment we'll find out a whole heck of a lot about ourselves—individually and collectively.
"We can let that moment define us and define the season or we find a way to come back and correct the stuff we've got to correct. We can move in a million different directions or we become what we're capable of being.
"We've got a chance to become a heck of a football team—we weren't tonight. Everybody has accountability and it starts with me.
"Stay true to the brotherhood we talk about – stay true to this team. We don't get to just roll the ball out there and stuff happens. We've got to go fight for it and make it happen every single rep every single day.
"It should hurt—let it hurt. We've got to find a way to come back and be better than we are."
The Knights have an open date this next weekend before resuming their season Oct. 17 at Memphis.
Only time will tell whether UCF can do the things Heupel and his players know they need to do to be the team they want to be in 2020.
Stay tuned.