Preview: UCF vs Tulsa

Courtesy UCF Athletics Communications

One week after officially returning to bowl eligibility with a 24-3 win over Cincinnati, UCF (6-4 overall, 4-2 American) is set to play its 2016 home finale. The Knights will be battling the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (7-3 overall, 4-2 American), a team fresh off of a 42-40 loss to Navy.

UCF has seen Tulsa quite a bit in its history, having lost six of the programs’ nine meetings. However, the Knights do own a 3-2 record against the Golden Hurricane at home in Orlando. Their last matchup came in 2015, with Tulsa coming away with a 45-30 victory.

UCF has been led by its defense all year long, and defense coordinator Erik Chinander’s unit will have to step up once again on Saturday night. Tulsa is averaging 42.2 points per game this season, which is the 12th best mark in the country.

The backfield is a big strength for the Golden Hurricane, as senior James Flanders and junior D’Angelo Brewer have each rushed for more than 1,000 yards.

With two sacks last week, UCF junior linebacker Shaquem Griffin now has 10 ½ on the year. He leads the conference, while also ranking sixth in the nation. His twin brother Shaquill, a senior cornerback, came up with two passes defended last week. He now ranks first in the AAC and fifth in the country with 15.

In last week’s game against Cincinnati, defense and special teams carried the load, but the Knights need their offense to step up this week. The group that is led by freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton has had some trouble putting points on the board in recent weeks, scoring just four combined touchdowns in the last two games. Milton did put up some solid numbers last week by completing 22 of his 34 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown. At one point, the Kapolei, Hawaii, native completed 13 straight passes, which is the second-best streak in program history. Freshman running back Jawon Hamilton had a career day, going for 81 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.

The UCF offense will have to keep up with Tulsa’s, but that’s certainly not an impossible task. The Golden Hurricane defense has been the worst in the conference this year in terms of yards allowed, giving up an average of 536.2 per game. They’ve given up almost 200 rushing yards per game, which leaves them vulnerable for a Scott Frost offense that is focused on running the ball. UCF players Hamilton, senior Dontravious Wilson and freshman Adrian Killins will surely look to get off to a quick start, which would take some pressure off of the Knights’ defense.

A victory would bring UCF’s total wins for the season to seven with two games remaining, a testament to the job that Frost and his staff have done for the program just one year after a winless season.

The Knights will honor this year’s senior class prior to kickoff, hoping to get that group one final win at Bright House Networks Stadium. The senior night ceremony is set for 7:42 p.m., with kickoff coming at 8 p.m.