CUSA Championship Game Preview: UCF vs. Tulsa
Date: Saturday, December 1 st, 2007
Time: Noon (EST)
Location: Brighthouse Networks Stadium (45,301); Orlando, FL
Records: UCF (9-3 overall, 7-1 CUSA); Tulsa (9-3 overall, 6-2 CUSA)
All-Time Series Record: Tied at 1
Last Meeting: Saturday, October 20, 2007— Orlando, FL—UCF 44 Tulsa 23
UCF vs. Tulsa General Overview
These two programs met for the very first time when they tangled for the 2005 CUSA title in Orlando. Tulsa captured that championship with a 44-27 victory at the Florida Citrus Bowl—which was the home of UCF through last season.
The Golden Knights and Golden Hurricane met again in Orlando on October 20 th of this season. UCF took advantage of five Tulsa turnovers and posted a relatively easy 44-23 win.
The game marked a key turning point in each team’s season.
For UCF, it was the first of six consecutive wins to capture the East Division crown after losing back-to-back games at East Carolina (52-38) and South Florida (64-12).
Tulsa has not lost since that day, as they’ve bounced back to win five straight—including an eye-opening 56-7 defeat of then West Division leader Houston at Skelly Stadium.
George O’Leary will be playing for his second league title in his four seasons at the helm in Orlando. Todd Graham has led the Golden Hurricane within a win of the title in his first year in Tulsa after guiding Rice to a bowl in 2006.
UCF Offense vs. Tulsa Defense
The Golden Hurricane defense knows what it is going to get with the Golden Knights’ offense. UCF is going to saddle up Kevin Smith and ride the nation’s leading rusher as much as possible.
Smith, who rushed for 170 yards and three scores in the first meeting, has 2,164 yards for the season—including 1,250 during his team’s six-game winning streak. He averages 180 yards and 13 points per contest.
Quarterback Kyle Israel doesn’t put up eye-popping numbers like his counterpart in this game Paul Smith. However, he has been a pretty steady influence on the UCF offense. Israel, who is characterized by his solid decision making ability, has completed just over 60 percent of his throws for 1,957 yards and 15 touchdowns while throwing eight interceptions. He has thrown two end zone picks in the past three weeks, though.
The receiving corps is led by Rocky Ross (45 rec. for 568 yards and two scores) and Kamar Aiken (31 rec. for 542 yards and five touchdowns).
They Knights will face a Tulsa defense that is giving up right at 35 points and 472 yards per game. Last week, the Golden Hurricane surrendered 700 yards to Rice while the Owls ran an almost unheard of 104 offensive plays due to the quick strike nature of the Tulsa offense.
Facing a rushing attack as strong as UCF’s, the front three will need to occupy the offensive line and allow the linebackers the chance to make plays. The linebacking corps is a good one. Nelson Coleman, who led the team in tackles the past two seasons, is second this year and ranks first all time with 403 stops. Chris Chamberlain has a team-high 139 this season while Alain Karatepeyan has wreaked havoc in the opposition’s backfield with team-highs in sacks (6) and tackles for losses (15.5).
Tulsa Offense vs. UCF Defense
In the first meeting, the dynamic Tulsa offensive attack was hurt by five costly turnovers. First team All-CUSA quarterback Paul Smith threw four interceptions and the Golden Hurricane was not able to run the football the way it would have liked. It went to the air on 34 of its first 44 plays—including 19 straight at one juncture. The offensive line also struggled and Smith was sacked five times.
However, the Tulsa attack—which leads the nation in total yards (548.6)—has refined itself since then and is currently operating as a more well oiled machine.
Quarterback Paul Smith leads the hurry-up, no-huddle, quick-strike attack. The versatile senior has thrown for 4,237 yards and 39 touchdowns. He also has 203 yards and 12 touchdowns via the ground. Smith has struggled to protect the football at times, as he thrown 16 picks; however, he has been more judicious in recent weeks and has thrown only three in the last five games.
Five Golden Hurricane wide receivers have 30 or more receptions. Several possess big-play potential, but Brennan Marion has definitely been the flashiest. Marion has caught 32 balls for 1,148 yards (35.9 ypc) and 11 scores. Trae Johnson and Charles Clay have each hauled in over 50 balls. Johnson has 61 receptions for 940 yards and 10 touchdowns while Clay has 52 for 843 and five scores.
The rushing attack has also been more than adequate as Tulsa has asked Tarrion Adams to carry the majority of the load in Courtney Tennial’s absence. Adams, who is averaging 5.8 yards per carry, has rushed for 1,072 yards while reaching the end zone seven times.
Although it is allowing 28 yards and 372 yards per game, the UCF defense has been as good, if not better, than any in the league this year. It is allowing a respectable 139 yards on the ground.
The secondary, which has intercepted 20 passes—including 17 in the last six games, has been strong due largely to the play of corner Joe Burnett. The senior, who leads CUSA with six interceptions, is second all-time in picks at UCF with 12. He ranks first on the team with 11 pass break-ups and fourth in tackles with 54. Burnett and fellow corner Johnell Neal will receive a superior challenge on Saturday versus one of the nation’s best passing attacks.
The back end of the defense has been aided by a front seven that has placed consistent pressure on the quarterback. UCF leads the league with 32 sacks. Defensive ends Bruce Miller and Leger Douzable have six sacks and 11 tackles behind the line, respectively.
The Knights are extremely dangerous in the return game and have taken the opening kickoff of the game to the house twice this year (@ ECU and @ SMU). Curtis Francis is averaging 30 yards on 31 returns and took one 93 yards for a score. Kh Williams has averaged 37.9 on only seven attempts and returned one 99 yards.
UCF placekicker Michael Torres has connected on 16-of-18 field goals with only one miss coming from less than 50 yards. Punter Blake Clingan is netting 36.1 yards on 50 boots.
Tulsa has also taken a kickoff back for a touchdown, as Roy Roberts took one 93 yards. Roberts averages 27 yards on 13 bringbacks. Trae Johnson, who also returns kickoffs, is posting a 9.9 yards per return mark on punts.
The Golden Hurricane’s kicking game hasn’t been as solid. Placekicker Jarod Tracy is only 6-of-11 on field goals and has only made good on 2-of-5 from the 30 to 39 yard range. Punter Michael Such is netting 34.9 yards on 39 attempts. Quarterback Paul Smith has also been used in a “pooch punter” role of late. Smith has pinned opponents inside their 20-yard line on nine of his 13 punts.
Both teams have been pretty good at doing the little things right or otherwise they wouldn’t be 9-3. However, UCF has been the most proficient team in the league in this area.
While the previous meeting won’t have much—if any—effect on this match-up, it could provide the Knights with a bit of a psychological edge—knowing that they’re about to attempt to do something they’ve done before.
Tulsa also knows what it is walking into in Brighthouse Networks Stadium—where UCF averaged 44,000 fans per game this year.
Final UCF-Tulsa Analysis & Prediction
UCF will attempt to saddle Kevin Smith and its workhorse to the title. The Golden Knights will need to keep getting pressure on the passer and continue their solid secondary play to limit the damage of Paul Smith and the Tulsa offense.
Conversely, the Golden Hurricane will need to get off the field on third down and prevent UCF from controlling the football. Tulsa can’t allow the turnover bug to resurface and it would certainly help if it could start quickly—forcing Israel to put the ball in the air more than they’re accustomed to doing. UCF has outscored its opponents 285-145 in the first half this season.
Tulsa’s offense will take better care of the football, which will allow it put up more points and keep this game more competitive than the first. Paul Smith will likely surpass the 300-yard mark through the air, but Kevin Smith and the UCF ground attack will be too much for a struggling Tulsa D that will be on the field too much.
UCF 42 - Tulsa 31