My weekly plane ride reflection on Saturday’s game is harder this week.
A win over UTEP last week had its negatives, but the negatives felt overwhelmed both by the result and the rarity in some of the mistakes as the season was concerned. It didn’t feel like big changes needed to be made, nor that UCF was the much worse for a below-average performance.
It is a different vibe after Tulsa.
What strikes me most, though, are the similarities between the offense’s struggles in the past two weeks and that of the defense a month ago.
After disappointing performances against Southern Miss and Memphis, UCF shifted gears on defense. The unit lacked energy. Their fundamentals, namely in tackling, were flaring up as a major issues. Mediocre offense and subpar running games were racking up surprising numbers. The concerns were masked because it was a big-play defense, still, and one that didn’t give up too many big plays. That and, at the time, the offense was running full tilt behind Latavius Murray.
In the last two weeks, however, it’s the offense that shows that same stagnation.
The offensive line lost the battle up front against UTEP. And this week against Tulsa, they looked simply overmatched. The refrain from UCF coach George O’Leary after: Tulsa played faster than UCF blocked.
An energy issue isn’t an easy fix. Motivational talk only goes so far. But I imagine the game plan to fix these problems may be similar to the one that happened on the other side of the ball. A return to some of the basics: getting off blocks, technique, fast play, and, in the game plan, the use of plays and concepts in which UCF has found the most success.
Several times this season, for example, the Knights have put together solid drives using their athletes like Quincy McDuffie, Rannell Hall and Rob Calabrese to keep defenses off balance. Motions and misdirection open holes, not just for those players on reverses, but also for Murray in the running game. UCF found yards there late against Tulsa, and I wonder if there will be more of that in the next week (or, with a win, the next two weeks).
There’s no doubt that the offensive problems, while not mortal against UTEP, were too big to overcome against a good team like Tulsa.
No doubt they will be the focus this week.
Speaking of this week, there’s little time to dwell over Tulsa. The Knights now likely face a must-win against UAB. (An East Carolina loss on Friday would give the Knights the division title, rendering Saturday’s game a formality in the division race.) On Saturday, they have a chance to fix all that’s gone wrong in the last two weeks, and to get back on track for that enticing rematch.
BY THE NUMBERS
5: Three and outs by UCF’s offense, the focus of the article in this morning’s paper.
1.9: Yards per carry for UCF, their lowest output since the bowl loss to Rutgers in 2009.
4: Third down conversions out of 15 attempts. A putrid 26.7 percent clip.
1: Drive that extended more than 42 yards, the touchdown drive in the first half.
8: Of 17 third down conversions for Tulsa, 47 percent. UCF had been allowing 38 percent this season.
4: Sacks allowed by UCF on Saturday. Two came on the final drive.
0: Combined sacks and quarterback hurries on 34 Tulsa dropbacks.