Monday Notebook: Gamblin' Gus, 10 Wins For FSU? Billy The Closer And More

Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl - UCF v Florida

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Night time fell in New Orleans and it was cold and UCF found itself in one of those moments you might remember when looking back on a special season. With hopes of winning a conference title and playing in a major bowl, UCF was trying to avoid a momentum swing to their opponent who sensed the Knights were wobbling. Down 31-24, Tulane was trying to force a stop and get the ball back with hopes of a score to at least tie in a game to decide who controls their destiny in the AAC.

Gus Malzahn found himself with a decision to keep his team's goals alive. After three straight runs by Isaiah Bowser, UCF found itself facing 4th-and-1 at its own 34 yard line. The ball was literally a few inches from the first down line. Malzahn could punt and trust his defense but Tulane had just gone 10-plays and 73 yards to pull within a score and sensed their offense had found a rhythm. So Malzahn decided to go for it.

He went wildcat(or wild knight) formation with Bowser waiting for a direct snap and sent quarterback John Rhys Plumlee split out to the right. Tulane stacked the box thinking Bowser was going to run. UCF center, Matthew Lee, may have sensed Tulane was offsides(they were) and he snapped the ball. Bowser, thinking he may have had a free play, didn't run. He threw a Plumlee, who was tackled by Tulane's Jarius Monroe as the ball was approaching. The ref had no choice but to throw a flag for pass interference. It was Monroe's third pass interference of the game. Tulane had one PI call on them in their previous nine games. The penalty gave UCF a first down. There was no flag thrown for offsides. If UCF didn't think they had a free play, would Bowser have run for the first down? Or was the pass the call all along? Only a smiling Gus Malzahn, Isaiah Bowser, John Rhys Plumlee and others know. But the 15-yard penalty extended a drive to remember for UCF.

Facing 3rd-and-5 from the Tulane 45, Plumlee was flushed out of the pocket and scrambled away from defenders and found Bowser falling back to make a catch for nine yards and keep the drive alive. Bowser converted another 3rd-and-1 at the 27 and Plumlee hit Johnny Richardson on a swing pass on 3rd-and-4 at the Tulane 17 for a gain of six. Plumlee then ran on 3rd-and-3 from the 4-yard line to make it 1st-and-goal at the one before Bowser finished off the drive with his 13th rushing touchdown of the year. It capped off a 16-play 75-yard drive that went 8:07 and gave UCF a 38-24 lead.

Tulane did score to make a one-possession game but UCF's Javon Baker recovered the onside kick and UCF won 38-31 to move to 8-2 overall and 5-1 in the AAC. The Knights now control their destiny to host the conference title game with wins against Navy this Saturday and at rival South Florida next week. If UCF wins those two games and a title game, they head to the Cotton Bowl.

Three weeks ago the Knights lost by three touchdowns at East Carolina and playing in a major bowl seemed like a distant memory. Now they are ranked inside the top 20 and have the national buzz again. Navy rallied to make a game against Notre Dame, falling 35-32. They outscored the Irish 19-0 in the second half and ran for 255 yards in the game. The triple option is tough to defend and the cut blocking often hurts teams in games they play the week after facing Navy. But Malzahn remembers last year's loss at Annapolis, 34-30. It was Mikey Keane's first start and UCF was missing seven starters who suffered injuries in the loss at Louisville the week before. Navy ran 76 times for 348 yards in that game. This time around, the Midshipmen are 3-7 and UCF has a chance to move closer to the goals set before the season.

Malzahn hopes this week's game won't need a gamble or two like he made in New Orleans. But he also brings a different team to this year's game against Navy than last year. The stakes are high and UCF knows what's on the line. But one drive in New Orleans might be the one you look back on and say that made 2022 special...

No sensible Seminole fan would have told you FSU could win 10 games in 2022. But now, Mike Norvell's team is favored to win their final two games against Louisiana and Florida. FSU destroyed Syracuse 38-3 on the road to win their third straight and get to 7-3. Jordan Travis was near perfect in the win going 21-for-23 and tossing three touchdowns and he caught a touchdown pass. Trey Benson averaged nine yards a carry going for 163 yards. FSU's defense allowed 160 total yards and has allowed 22 points in their last three games.

With wins in their next two games, a 9-3 FSU team then gets a chance to get to double-digit wins with a bowl win. A 10-3 team likely finished inside the top 15 and likely gets Mike Norvell a very strong recruiting class and lots of momentum...

Much was made when 4-star recruit Jaden Rashada chose Miami over Florida. It came at a time when even some Florida fans were criticizing Billy Napier about his recruiting ability and if he was any better than Dan Mullen at getting top players. Two wins after losing to Georgia has Florida and its fans feeling a lot better about the present and future. The Gators won at Texas A&M and then rolled South Carolina this past weekend and move to 6-4. Oh, Rashada backed out of his UM commitment and decided he wanted to play in the SEC and is now a Gator commit. Billy Napier's team should get to 7-4 with a win against Vanderbilt and then have FSU on the road to finish the regular season before a bowl game. It may end up at 7-5 but Napier looks like he's well on his way to building his foundation and reeling in a top-10 recruiting class...

Nuggets: Tulane lost for the 61st consecutive time against an AP-ranked team. Their last win was against a ranked-Vanderbilt team in 1984...John Rhys Plumlee's 176 yards against Tulane was the third most in his career. He ran for 212 against LSU in 2019 and a week earlier in that season he ran for 177 against New Mexico State...Texas A&M is the first team to have a #1 recruiting class and then a losing season. The Aggies are 3-7...TCU is now 10-0 and has clinched a spot in the Big XII title game. The Horned Frogs were picked 7th in the conference preseason poll...North Carolina is 9-1 and have five wins by three points or less...Kentucky was 4-0 and ranked inside the top 10. They have gone 2-4 since and face Georgia this week...UCONN went 1-11 in 2021 and then made a surprise hire in Jim Mora Jr. After beating Liberty, who came into the game 8-1, UCONN is bowl eligible at 6-5...

Final note: Do you know the difference between a highway and a freeway? A freeway is a highway, but not all highways are freeways. A freeway has controlled access using entrance and exit ramps with designs to allow for higher speed entrances. 

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