As is becoming the norm in the American Athletic Conference, a high-powered offense is the saving grace for the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
Art Briles disciple Philip Montgomery took over a fledgling program ahead of last season and took it to a bowl game. Sure, Tulsa lost to Virginia Tech 55-52 in the Independence Bowl, but it got there. That's what matters.
Tulsa pays a visit to Ohio Stadium as the first of two Oklahoma teams Urban Meyer and Ohio State are scheduled to face in as many weeks in 2016. The Buckeyes travel to Norman for a showdown with the Oklahoma Sooners Sept. 17.
As the season draws near (the countdown for the season opener drops beneath triple digits this week), our too early preview series takes a glance at the Golden Hurricane.
Much like Ohio State's opponent in the season opener, Bowling Green, Tulsa plays offense with reckless abandon and a total disregard to what its tempo does to its defense. Under Montgomery — who spent seven seasons in Waco, Texas, under Briles as quarterback coach, co-offensive coordinator and finally offensive coordinator — the Golden Hurricane experienced a resurgence and went to a bowl for the first time since 2012.
Tulsa scored a ton, but never stopped anybody. In 11 of its 13 games last year, it scored at least 34 points. The problem was, the Golden Hurricane allowed at least 30 points in 11 of 13 games. Yikes.
Quarterback Dane Evans returns for his senior season and looks to improve on a strong first season under Montgomery. He threw for more than 4,300 yards, completed 63 percent of his passes and tossed 25 touchdown passes against only eight interceptions. Evans and the rest of the offense should take a step forward in its second year in Montgomery's high-paced, throw-the-ball-around scheme.
|Head Coach||Philip Montgomery (2nd season, 6-7 career record)|
|2015 Record||6-7, 3-5 (Finished fourth in AAC West)|
|2015 Postseason||Lost 55-52 to Virginia Tech in Independence Bowl|
|Biggest Losses||RB Zack Langer, WRs Keyarris Garrett, Connor Floyd|
|Biggest Returnees||QB Dane Evans, RB D'Angelo Brewer, 3 of top 5 WR from 2015|
|Summary||Tulsa's offense is fun. Its defense? Not so much.|
|Matchup||Sept. 10, 2016: Tulsa at Ohio State, kickoff TBA|
Tulsa loses leading rusher Zack Langer to graduation, but his 3.9 yards per carry average left something to be desired. Expect junior D'Angelo Brewer and sophomore Ramadi Warren (combined 1,300 yards on 6.0 yards per carry and 12 touchdowns in 2015) to fill in nicely.
Tulsa's leading receiver in 2015 Keyarris Garrett (nearly 1,600 yards and eight scores) is gone too, but there is plenty of talent on the outside to make up for his departure. Slot receiver Keevan Lucas is expected back after going down with a knee injury last season against Houston. Additionally, Joshua Atkinson and Justin Hobbs can make plays on the outside and down the field for Evans. The question may be whether or not Evans can keep his jersey clean — he was sacked 41 times last year, the fourth-most in the country.
Tulsa butters its bread and wins games with its offense. Its philosophy is to force its opposition to make a dent on the scoreboard or risk getting in too big a hole.
Evans has great pieces around him to score even more points in 2016.
As potent as Tulsa's offense is capable of being, the other side of the ball is an entirely different story.
Defensive coordinator Bill Young is set to make a return trip to Columbus (he served as John Cooper's D-coordinator from 1988-95) hoping a relatively young unit improves from the horrid effort it put forth last year. Honestly, it really can't get much worse.
Tulsa allowed more than 536 yards per game last season, better than only Texas Tech and Kansas. It also gave up 39.8 points per game, 121st in the nation. That's really, really bad.
A respected name in the college football coaching landscape, Young turned around the defense at his alma mater, Oklahoma State, from 2009-12. He's also coached in the NFL and briefly at the high school level, so isn't short on experience.
However, his defense was in 2015. Tulsa's fast-paced offense didn't do its defense any favors, but there isn't really an excuse for allowing 259 (!!) plays of 10 or more yards. Michael Mudoh is the unit's biggest loss, but the fact that he, a safety, led the team with 135 tackles in 2015 tells you plenty about the group as a whole.
Two key defensive linemen are gone too, but the unit returns six of its top eight performers up front and all three linebackers. Matt Linscott and Trent Martin combined for 30 tackles for loss in 2015 but only 7.0 sacks, which shows the group was better at run fits than getting to the passer. Will that change in Year 2? We'll see.
With how fast Tulsa's offense plays, it must have depth in the secondary and at linebacker to keep fresh bodies on defense. The more snaps an offense usually means more snaps for its defense, too.
Young has his work cut out for him, but returns a bulk of the bodies he worked with in 2015. Can the group improve this fall? As the statistics show, there is nowhere to go but up.
Tulsa appears committed to the Baylor-like and Big 12-like mentality of scoring in bunches and seeing where things stand when the fourth quarter rolls around with a porous defense. On paper, the Golden Hurricane should be better in 2016, but likely won't challenge for the American Athletic Conference crown unless a serious overhaul of its defense happens.
Montgomery's playbook consists of a wide set of downfield throws from its spread look, and if Evans gets hot he and the offense can pose a threat to pretty much anybody. Whether or not Ohio State gets pressure on Evans and keeps everything in front of it will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.
The Buckeyes are way more talented at just about every position, but a young secondary with three new starters will get tested, just like in the opener against Bowling Green. Ohio State's offense could find itself in a situation where it must score a lot to stay in the game.