Tulane quarterback Glen Cuiellette had a pretty good idea why the preparation for Saturday’s trip to Central Florida went smoothly this week.
The Green Wave (3-5, 0-4 AAC) had practiced three times a month ago to get ready for the Knights (4-4, 2-2) — before Hurricane Matthew postponed the game from Friday, Oct. 7 to Saturday.
“There’s a lot of things I still remember,” Cuiellette said. “We know the assignments. We have a lot of recognition for what we’re supposed to do.”
With both schools slated for open dates this weekend, they agreed to move it two days before the game was originally scheduled — and after Tulane had practiced Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. How much either team will benefit from that extra time depends on whom you ask.
“There are some things we're still using (in the game plan), and there are some other things that are going to be a little bit different,” coach Willie Fritz said. “Their team has changed quite a bit since that time, as ours has as well.”
The biggest difference for UCF is on offense, with freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton emerging as the clear No. 1. The Wave was not sure who would start a month ago because Milton had been sidelined by an ankle injury a week earlier against East Carolina after starting the two previous games.
Milton returned following the impromptu open date and played every down over the next three weeks, relegating longtime starter Justin Holman, a senior, to the bench. New coach Scott Frost opened up the offense as Milton became more comfortable.
“It’s very different,” Tulane defensive tackle Tanzel Smart said. “They run a lot more formations than they did. They run the same play out of three different formations.”
Milton completed 42 of 67 passes (62.7 percent) for 527 yards and five touchdowns against Temple and Connecticut before struggling last Saturday with a pair of interceptions at Houston. He also ran for a 63-yard touchdown in the Temple game, providing the dual threat Frost wants in his Oregon-based, fast-paced, zone-read offense.
But the Knights defense is what really concerns Fritz. Six of the top seven tacklers returned from last year’s 0-12 face plant, which came on the heels of 31 wins in the previous three years under former coach George O’Leary.
“They have big, fast athletes,” Fritz said. “They are very talented on defense, without question. We just have to be assignment sound.”
For the second straight week, the Tulane offense will try to build on a solid second half. After piling up yards in garbage time of a blowout loss at Tulsa, the Wave scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions to go ahead of SMU 31-21 before giving up two late touchdowns to lose.
In that stretch, Cuiellette went 4 of 5 for 87 yards with two touchdown tosses to Terren Encalade. Tulane then had a six-play, 92-yard drive, all on the ground.
“I made a conscious effort of keeping everyone focused and being positive,” Cuiellette said. “That was a big difference because everyone else fed off of me. We didn’t lose our heads. We kept it together.”
The Wave still ranks last in the league in total yards, though, and is mired in an 11-game AAC losing streak.
So a win Saturday — now that the teams are finally playing — would mean everything.
“We have those sparks and moments of clarity where we light it up and are flowing,” Cuiellette said. “That just shows me that, hey, we can be competitive and win all our games. It’s a tough offense to stop when we start getting it going.”