Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015
7:30 PM ET
Meet the Opponent
Heading into this season, the general consensus was that Tulsa was a bottom-feeder in the AAC after their 2-10 season a year ago. However, much like the Tom Herman-led Houston Cougars, Tulsa's new coach has exceeded expectations and has the Golden Hurricane playing solid football. Phillip Montgomery, the coach in question, was Baylor's offensive coordinator just a year ago and has brought that background to a team loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball and a defense that could only improve after allowing nearly 40 points a game last season (39.3).
Tulsa is 5-4 now, coming off two straight wins over SMU and a UCF team that can't seem to pull out of their season-long nose-dive. SMU and UCF aren't world-beaters and their other wins over UL Monroe, New Mexico and Florida Atlantic aren't particularly impressive, but the four losses the Golden Hurricane have on the year show-off the improving Tulsa team. Tulsa didn't have a chance against Oklahoma, falling 52-38 and then dropped games in AAC play against Houston, East Carolina and was only down seven in the third quarter to Memphis before the Tigers pulled away late.
Tulsa is yet another AAC team led by a high-powered offense with significant struggles defensively. That said, Tulsa isn't a team to overlook because they have improved from the 2-10 team they were a year ago.
Tulsa Offense vs. Cincinnati Defense
This is another AAC offense that could quickly turn this game into a shootout behind the arm of junior Dane Evans, who has completed 61% of his passes for 2,938 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
As a team, Tulsa ranks 12th nationally in total offense, averaging 520.1 yards per game, which is just behind Western Kentucky and the Bearcats' opponent last week; Houston (525.1). While their passing attack ranks 14th in the country, averaging 326.4 yards per game, the rushing offense ranks 40th and racks up nearly 200 yards per game on the ground (193.7).
Evans has dynamic receivers to throw to, which will be a big challenge for the young, and improving, Bearcats secondary. Keyarris Garrett is a very good player who has 65 receptions, 996 yards receiving and five touchdowns so far. Joshua Atkinson has 706 receiving yards on 44 catches and Keevan Lucas - a player who was the superstar of this offense last season - has 26 receptions for 409 yards with five touchdowns.
The run game is led by Zack Langer, who has 631 rushing yards on the season with 14 touchdowns. He is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry though. D'Angelo Brewer and Ramadi Warren have 563 and 310 rushing yards, respectively and are both averaging over 5.4 yards per carry.
The Bearcats, on the other side, are actually coming off one of their more impressive performances this season. Against Houston last week, the Cincinnati defense held the Houston offense to 427 yards on offense, which still isn't great, but did so while making impactful plays when the game was getting out of hand. The secondary remains a young, work-in-progress and the defensive line still needs to generate a serviceable pass rush, but this unit is making strides.
I have to say the edge goes to Tulsa as I fully believe Garrett may be the best receiver the Bearcats have seen all season and that Lucas could be in that discussion based on his play a year ago. Evans is a good enough quarterback to hold his own in an offensive dual and the run game is good enough to provide balance. Tulsa will put up points, but I expect to see a little more from the Cincinnati defense in the way of making impact plays, forcing turnovers or generating some pressure on the quarterback.
Tulsa Defense vs. Cincinnati Offense
This section is a little easier to outline. Tulsa's defense, while slightly better in scoring defense, is still a very poor defense, allowing 37.3 points per game. That's 116th in the country out of 127 teams. Even in terms of total defense, the Golden Hurricane allows 519.1 yards per game, which ranks 120th out of those 127 FBS teams.
The Cincinnati offense can and will take advantage of this Tulsa defensive unit. The big question for Cincinnati this season is if the Bearcats will find a way to protect the ball. Whereas Houston ranks first nationally in turnover differential, Tulsa is tied for 72nd (0). They do have 18 sacks on the season and have forced/recovered 10 fumbles this season though. If turnovers bite the Bearcats again, Tulsa could make this a close one. If Cincinnati protects the ball, I expect the 5th ranked Bearcats offense to move the ball at will and hit their 578.2 total yards per game average. The Cincinnati offense just has so many weapons. It will be interesting to watch how Gunner Kiel plays in this one after throwing a couple bad interceptions last week.
Cincinnati's Andrew Gantz is 37-for-37 on extra points and 17-for-21 on field goals with a long of 51. Punter Sam Geraci has been solid this season, averaging 45.4 yards per punt. It's worth noting that the special teams unit did have some struggles last week with the Geraci botched snap (and subsequent block) and the miscommunication on the Gantz second-half onside kick call. The fumbled snap was due to the rainy weather and the miscommunication is still a bit of a mystery.
Redford Jones is 39-for-40 on extra points this season for Tulsa and is 14-for-21 on field goals with a long of 46 yards. Dalton Parks is the punter. He averages 41.2 yards per punt and has had 15 punts downed inside the 20.
Score: Tulsa 24, Cincinnati 45
Tulsa is an improved team from a year ago. Their offense is dynamic and has good balance. Evans can throw the ball around and his receivers are a very talented group. The problem for Tulsa is still their defense, which is still in the bottom 10 or so of the FBS in the main statistical groups. Tulsa has a chance to force some turnovers, but with all things equal, both teams figure to put up some points.
Cincinnati should win this game. They play at home, have one of the most explosive offenses in the country and the talented youth on the defensive side of the ball is beginning to develop a little more consistency. As has been the case all season, turnovers can down the Bearcats. Even with a turnover or two, Cincinnati should be able to move the ball with relative ease offensively and I expect the defense to feed off the home atmosphere and play well. This is a dangerous game for Cincinnati, but the Bearcats should come away with the win.