I guess we have to talk about Tulsa. Yes, the same Tulsa that ruined Thanksgiving weekends across the Cincinnati area by rallying for a 40-37 win in overtime against the Bearcats in the regular season finale of 2016.
To be fair to the Golden Hurricane, they were a much better team than the admittedly bad 2016 Bearcats, so they probably deserved to win that game, but damn was it disappointing to nearly pull off an upset only to lose once again.
As mentioned above, Tulsa was actually really good last season. An explosive offense and a glut of talented skill position players elevated it to a 10-3 overall record, which included a 55-10 blasting of Central Michigan in the Miami Beach Bowl. I’d call that a pretty nifty second year for head coach Philip Montgomery, who has been to a bowl game in each of his first two seasons in charge.
What They Do Well
There’s a reason the Golden Hurricane defeated UC despite trailing by 10 points late in the fourth quarter. They can move the ball and do it quickly. In fact, no team in the American Athletic Conference was as potent offensively as Tulsa, which averaged a startling (and league-leading) 527 yards per game. Despite all those yards, Montgomery’s squad was still not the most efficient offense of all time, ranking a solid, but unspectacular, 35th in the country in offensive S&P+.
The biggest strength of the offense was the passing game, led by quarterback Dane Evans and an enviable collection of wideouts, the Golden Hurricane were nearly impossible to stop when they decided to air it out. Keevan Lucas had 1,180 yards and 15 touchdowns, Joshua Atkinson had 78 receptions for 1,058 yards and Justin Hobbs eclipsed 600 yards and reached 50 receptions. Although Lucas and Atkinson are gone this year, as is Evans, you can be sure the reliance on the air won’t go away entirely.
But there is a chance that the running game will be more prominent, not that it wasn’t last year. With D’Angelo Brewer carrying the ball out of the backfield, the Golden Hurricane have one of the best backs in the entire conference, if not the country.
With the passing and rushing games working well, the Golden Hurricane were able to consistently pick up chunks of yardage, as they were at the top of the AAC in plays of 10 or more yards (244).
What They Don’t Do Well
Tulsa wasn’t terrible on defense, as you might expect for a team so focused on offense. It fit into the middle of the conference in most defensive metrics, while not really standing out in any particular area. The Golden Hurricane were also mediocre in terms of ball control, finishing the season with an even zero in turnover margin. If there was one weak point, it was that Tulsa had a bad habit of letting teams break out for a big gain more frequently than it would have liked. Things were kept in check by a solid pass rush and passable defense the majority of the time, but it still gave up the fourth-most plays of 10 or more yards and the third most of 20 and 30 or more yards in the AAC.
Players to Watch
D’Angelo Brewer, RB
As mentioned above, Brewer is an exceptionally talented running back and a durable one to boot. He tied with Navy’s Will Worth for the most carries in the AAC last season and he turned those 264 attempts into 1,435 yards and seven touchdowns.
Justin Hobbs, WR
With Lucas and Atkinson out, Hobbs will be the new No. 1 target. He was very good as the third option last season, putting up 50 receptions, 685 yards and four scores.
Keenen Johnson, WR
Hobbs can’t catch every pass, and Johnson is the next in line. He only averaged 10.2 yards per reception last season, but his 30 catches ranked fourth on the team. Expect all of his numbers to go up in 2017.
Petera Wilson, LB
Wilson helped Tulsa rank fourth in the AAC in sacks last season, piling up 6.5 despite having only 16 tackles in total.
Jesse Brubaker, DE
The senior defensive end was the most dangerous defender on the team, managing to do just about everything you could want a defensive end to do and more. He had a team-high 13.5 tackles for loss, including 5.5 sacks and he also collected two interceptions. IF you are looking for a dark horse candidate for AAC defensive player of the year, he’s a good one.
Do They Play Cincinnati?
Not this year. Revenge will have to wait.
A new quarterback will certainly shake things up and make another 10-win campaign difficult to attain. However, the offense is still stacked with talent and the defense, which was a lot better than you might think, has a number of returning difference makers. The schedule is also a bit tough, starting against Oklahoma State and featuring the gauntlet of Houston, Memphis and USF, the three best teams in the conference. Still, Montgomery should get back to a bowl game after leading Tulsa to a 7-5 mark.