Football faces challenge against UCF defense

Dara Tucker, Staff Reporter

Tulane football (2-4, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) will look to record a second consecutive win when it takes on Central Florida (3-2, 1-0 AAC) 11 a.m. Saturday at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, Florida. The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.

UCF finished 12-1 and won the Fiesta Bowl last season because of its prolific offense led by quarterback Blake Bortles who was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. This year’s team, however, has a different mantra. UCF relies on its veterans to deliver a strong defensive performance. UCF erased a 14-point deficit to defeat BYU last week because of the work of the defense.

The Football Writers Association of America named senior linebacker Terrance Plummer the National Defensive Player of the Week for his career-best 17 tackle performance against BYU. Tulane has a major challenge of containing Plummer and controlling redshirt junior defensive lineman Thomas Niles, who has recorded a sack in each game this season.

“[UCF has] a great defensive front, some linebackers that can run, safeties that hit and run like corners and corners that can cover well defensively,” Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”

Tulane will also look to slow UCF’s passing game. Sophomore quarterback Justin Holman had a breakout performance against BYU, completing 30 of 51 passes for 326 yards and 2 touchdowns. Holman subsequently earned American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors. 

“Offensively, you look at [Holman] and he’s outstanding,” Johnson said. “[UCF is] kind of a blueprint of what we aspire to be and what we’d like to do.”

After struggling on the road the previous two games, Tulane bounced back to defeat Connecticut 12-3 Saturday night at Yulman Stadium. The Wave will look to repeat last week’s strong defensive performance when it forced 3 turnovers, two of which were fumble recoveries by junior safety Darion Monroe.

“We’ve got guys who can create turnovers,” Johnson said. “You could see what Monroe did. He just played awesome.”

By capitalizing on UConn’s defensive mistakes, Tulane’s offense was able to piece together point-producing drives. The Wave will need to build upon its progress against UCF. Senior quarterback Nick Montana filled in for the injured redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Lee last week and worked efficiently, completing 19 of 26 passes for 135 yards and tossing the Wave’s only touchdown.

Johnson said, however, that Saturday’s starter will depend on Lee’s health.

“If [Lee] can throw, [Lee] is our starter,” Johnson said. “If not, it’ll be [Montana].”

Regardless of the quarterback situation, Johnson said that his team recognizes the significance of this game against one of the conference’s top teams.

“It’s going to be a big test for us but we just need to go in there and play well,” Johnson said. “I told the team the other day, it’s not about how many points we score or give up, it’s just playing well. If we play well, I think we have a chance in every game.”