ORLANDO, Fla. — For the Tulane defense, much of Saturday’s loss to Central Florida resembled the second half of last season.
The Green Wave made several big stops, caused a bunch of turnovers and still had to explain why it came up short.
After dropping two November games by a combined seven points last year, the Wave added a 20-13 score to the list Saturday — even though it held UCF to 233 yards and forced four turnovers on a sunny day at Bright House Networks Stadium.
“We played four quarters, but the score’s on the paper,” said linebacker Nico Marley, who had three tackles for loss. “We just do what we do on defense. We can’t control everything.”
And, Marley admitted, UCF’s two touchdowns came on drives the Tulane defense could have controlled.
The Knights scored their lone touchdown of the first half on an 85-yard drive that started with two third-down conversions and ended with six consecutive runs by William Stanback covering 49 yards.
“We played well, but we still have to work on a few things,” Marley said. “They went on a long drive in the second quarter and we can’t let that happen. We have to see if we give up even less points.”
UCF’s touchdown in the second half came when cornerback Parry Nickerson got beaten to the inside, then missed a tackle as receiver Breshad Perriman scored from 45 yards out to give the Knights a 20-6 lead with 9:35 left in the third quarter.
“The coaches said I had the wrong technique,” Nickerson said. “I had to move on to the next play.”
The defense certainly did, shutting out UCF the rest of the way. Defensive back William Townsend ended one series with an interception — the Knights’ fourth turnover.
Then, after Tulane cut its deficit to 20-13, Marley knifed through to blow up a run for a 6-yard loss as the Wave forced a three-and-out and give the offense a chance to tie the score.
“I’m proud or our defense,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “They played pretty physical and were outstanding. “The defense played a lot like they did last year when we were statistically in the top 25 of the country.”
UCF quarterbacks Justin went 9 for 17 with two interceptions, getting benched in the second quarter after some early misfires before returning to play the entire second half. The Knights finished 11 of 24 for 139 yards in the air and struggled on the ground, too, gaining 94 yards on 38 attempts.
Tulane defensive end Tyler Gilbert had a sack on UCF’s first pass attempt. That was the first of two sacks and nine tackles for loss for the Wave. Edward Williams followed with an interception on the next play, and safety Brandon LeBeau recovered a fumble.
“It’s something our defense prides itself on,” Marley said. “We’re not the biggest defense, but turning over the ball gives us a great advantage. That’s what separates us from bigger teams.”
Safety Sam Scofield led Tulane with seven tackles. Gilbert added six, and Nickerson, defensive tackle Sean Wilson and middle linebacker Eric Thomas had five stops apiece.
Tulane’s defense played well enough that UCF coach George O’Leary got sick of watching his offense, promising a different approach.
“Practice is about to change,” O’Leary said. “We have to start working harder on offense. I think we’re too soft on offense right now.”