Tulane battles to end but falls short against UCF

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NEW ORLEANS – Tulane did not go down without a fight in Saturday’s 38-31 loss to UCF, staging an inspiring comeback effort after trailing 31-17 at the end of the third quarter but ultimately came up short in a game which the Knights led from start to finish.

The ground game was a big element for both sides as UCF totaled 230 yards on the ground at the half with Tulane recording 111 yards in the same category. This made up the majority of both teams’ yards of total offense as the Knights tallied 318 yards and the Green Wave posted 175 yards.

UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee had some struggles through the air at times, but was difficult to contain on the ground as he had crossed the century mark less than four minutes into the game with 118 rushing yards.

In the first two drives alone, Plumlee had a 47-yard rush and a 67-yard run that went for a touchdown, ultimately recording an impressive rushing stat line of 176 yards on the ground with two touchdowns 18 carries. It marked the third-highest rushing total of Plumlee’s career.

Tulane had some offensive struggles at the beginning of the game and had some issues with dropped passes, going 3-and-out on its first drive with drops from Dea Dea McDougle and Deuce Watts.

The Green Wave put its first points on the board with a 1-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Michael Pratt to Watts in the right corner of the end zone with 8:39 remaining in the first quarter.

The Tulane defense was largely solid at the goal line, stopping UCF in some critical situations despite yielding some explosive plays. The Green Wave forced the Knights to settle for a field goal at the Tulane 7-yard-line on the first possession, forced a turnover on downs on fourth-and-one in the final minute of the first quarter (Nick Anderson) and stopped another fourth-down attempt on fourth-and-sevem at the Tulane 45 on UCF’s final drive of the half.

The Green Wave headed into the locker room at halftime trailing 24-14 and it didn’t take long for the scoring to open up again in the third quarter as UCF opened with a 9-yard rushing touchdown by Plumlee, followed by a 23-yard field goal on Tulane’s end by Valentino Ambrosio and it was 31-17.

Tulane turned it into a one-score game as Pratt delivered a 2-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Reggie Brown, marking Brown’s fourth career reception and his first touchdown catch as the Green Wave cut the UCF lead to 31-24 with 11:39 to play in the game.

The Knights answered with the punishing runs of Isaiah Bowser, who eventually plowed his way into the end zone to make it 38-24 with 3:32 to play in the game.

Tulane did not go down without a fight as Pratt hit six consecutive completions, the last a 6-yard touchdown pass to Shae Wyatt to make it 38-31 with 1:46 to play in the game.

The Green Wave tried an onside kick but UCF recovered to put the game away.

Here’s a look into three players for the Green Wave who stood out on the loss:

RB Tyjae Spears

Spears makes this list nearly every week, but the type of performances he gives on a consistent basis with a number of explosive plays this season makes it impossible (egregious may actually be a better word) to leave him out.

Spears now has his fourth consecutive contest of posting 100 rushing yards or more in the books (130, 157, 125, 151), finishing Saturday’s outing with 130 yards on 8 carries despite being banged up. It marks his fifth game of the season crossing the century-mark. He totaled 110 rushing yards on four carries with a long of 70 yards at the end of the first quarter alone.

Good things happen when Tulane feeds Tyjae Spears, as will be the case for the team who gets him on Sundays.

LB Dorian Williams

Williams became one of the first players in the country to receive a Senior Bowl invite earlier this week and once again was an impact player for the Green Wave on Saturday. In a game in which turnovers were an issue for both sides, Williams was among those forcing them as he caused UCF running back RJ Harvey to lose the ball at the UCF 44 at the bottom of the third quarter, though the Knights ultimately recovered it.

Williams led the stat sheet by the end of the game with 13 total tackles (8 solo), 2 pass breakups and one forced fumble.

“I think they’re both great linebackers,” Fritz said of Williams and Anderson after last week’s game. “It’s been fun to watch their development since they got here…. They’re both big-time students of the game and I’ve been really impressed with them… I think they’re both going to have excellent opportunities (in the NFL). They’re team guys, they’re all into Tulane and they’re good students.”

Williams credited the effort of the UCF ground attack and how well it rolled after the game.

“I think the biggest thing was Plumlee’s speed,” Williams said. “It’s hard to practice for something like that and he did a great job.”

Next up is an American Conference matchup at home against SMU Thursday night. Tulane can still reach the conference title game if it can defeat the Mustangs and win at Cincinnati.

DL/LB Devean Deal

Deal hasn’t seen nearly as much involvement in a Tulane defense that has ranked among some of the best in the nation this season, but the second-year hybrid defensive player posted a career performance in Saturday’s game with 10 combined tackles (5 solo) and 1 quarterback hurry.

Deal’s previous single-game high in total tackles was 3, a number he’s registered four times this season. This time, he was the team’s second-leading tackler on the day.

“He did a nice job, really did,” Fritz said. “He made the adjustment in the second half of not squeezing quite as much so that when Plumlee pulled it, he could still make a play on the quarterback. He’s been very steady for us this season and he’s done a nice job.”

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Crissy Froyd

CCS Columnist

Crissy Froyd is a sports reporter of roughly nine years who graduated from LSU and has spent time at USA TODAY SMG, NBC Sports and the Fan Nation network on Sports Illustrated. She specializes in quarterback analysis and covers the SEC and college football across the state of Louisiana in addition to working with several college quarterbacks across the nation.

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