Monday, April 23, 2018
Sports

Knights eye revenge and top parting gift

ORLANDO — It seems Tulsa and UCF have an annual reservation in the Conference USA Championship Game.

Beginning with the inaugural game in 2005, the Golden Hurricane and Knights have met for the league crown twice, splitting the matchups. Tulsa blew out UCF 44-27 in 2005. The Knights returned the favor 44-25 two years later.

Now, with UCF and others set to depart at season's end as part of massive realignment, it's fitting that C-USA's two most decorated teams compete for the title one final time today.

"It is kind of funny if you look at it that way," Knights defensive lineman Victor Gray said. "It's like a farewell party."

This will be the teams' second meeting in three weeks, following Tulsa's 23-21 win in Oklahoma. The Golden Hurricane's top-ranked rushing offense had its way in that Nov. 17 matchup, racking up 209 rushing yards while holding UCF to 66.

Tulsa sacked UCF quarterback Blake Bortles four times and held on eight of 17 third downs.

"They're talented across the board. They know we beat them the first time, but it doesn't matter," Tulsa quarterback Cody Green said. "They will come out firing on all cylinders."

With little time to make that many adjustments, Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said "tweaks" is about all there is time to do in the matchup of 9-3 teams.

"They are a mirror to us in a lot of areas," he said. "I would like to be more like them in some areas. So the challenge of beating them twice is certainly there. But there are some positives that come out of the first win. Mainly that we get to play at home."

Road teams are 3-4 all time in the title game.

Knights coach George O'Leary said he thought his defense played well in the first game but had too many three-and-outs on offense, a product of Tulsa's defense playing much faster than the Knights.

"There's a lot of retention in what both teams saw and did, so it should be an interesting game," he said. "But I do think when you practice, the key is your show teams have to have a lot faster pace. You have to practice that way, and we've picked up this pace this week."

UCF's seniors can set a four-year victory record. They are tied with the 2010 class at 32 wins.

"It's important because you only get to play for a certain amount of games as a college player," O'Leary said. "You don't remember some other games, but you do remember the championship games."

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Published: 04/22/18