UCF takes its licks on Route 66

Tulsa dominates UCF in key Conference USA showdown

TULSA — The City of Tulsa claims to be the birthplace of Route 66, the legendary U.S. highway immortalized by an old television show and an iconic song.

"Get your kicks on Route 66!" Nat King Cole once melodiously sang.

Or in UCF's cacophonous case: Take your licks on Route 66!

Which is exactly what happened to the Knights during Saturday's devastating, debilitating 23-21 loss to the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. As famous Oklahoman Will Rogers, who was born just a few miles from here, once said, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

The Knights seemed to be on the right path heading into this game, but ended up getting flattened by a Tulsa team that routed them in every way except on the scoreboard. Tulsa was more physical, more aggressive, more composed. Tulsa nearly doubled UCF in total yardage (461-235) and more than tripled UCF in rushing yardage (209-66). Tulsa had no penalties and gave up no sacks. Tulsa was clearly the better team on Saturday.

Obviously, this reality is hard for UCF to accept. After all, the Knights had everything to play for on Saturday. They could have clinched their division and won the right to host the Conference USA championship game. They could have saved themselves the stress of having to win Saturday's home game against UAB to reach the league championship game. They could have been ranked in the Top 25 and tied the record for longest winning streak (seven) in school history.

Coulda. Shoulda. Woulda.

But didn't.

Sadly, that's pretty much been the story of UCF's season of near-misses against their toughest competition. The Knights coulda beaten Tulsa. They coulda beaten Ohio State. And they shoulda beaten Missouri.

Now, though, they face the prospect of potentially coming back to Tulsa in two weeks for Round 2. Give UCF's coaches and players credit because all they could talk about after the game was how they relish the thought of returning to the edge of the Great Plains for a rematch with Tulsa in the Conference USA championship game.

"The only thing on my mind right now is making sure we beat UAB so we can come back here and get our vengeance," grim-faced linebacker Terrance Plummer said.

"We're upset right now," added cornerback A.J. Bouye. "We should have won that game."

Bouye went on to note the Knights were offended Tulsa players talked trash at the end of the game.

With all due respect to Bouye, the Knights should not have won this game. In fact, they were fortunate to even be in the game at all. Honestly, it's not often when you get completely dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage and can still be within two points of winning a tough game on the road.

If the Knights do happen to come back here again in two weeks, they'll have to be much better or the score will be much worse. Tulsa has the No. 1 rushing offense and the No. 1 rushing defense in Conference USA. In two weeks, that's still going to be the case.

Unless UCF's offensive line can protect Bortles better and Bortles can make Tulsa pay for its constant blitzing, the result won't be any different in two weeks.

Unless UCF can run the ball and stop the run, the result won't be any different.

Unless UCF can play harder, faster and smarter, the result won't be any different.

"We've got some guys who want to come back here to take care of some things we didn't get done today," UCF coach George O'Leary said after the game.

As O'Leary came out for his post-game press powwow, the stadium P.A. system blared the old No. 1 country song "Tulsa Time" by Don Williams.

"Livin' on Tulsa time

Livin' on Tulsa time

Well you know I've been through it

When I set my watch back to it

Livin' on Tulsa time."

Clearly and commandingly, this game was played on Tulsa's time.

But one gnawing, lingering question remains:

Can O'Leary and his Knights come back here in two weeks, reset their watches and put Conference USA back on UCF time?

mbianchi@tribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @BianchiWrites. Listen to his radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740 AM.

 

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