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East Carolina @ Tulsa: Q&A with Kelly Hines of the Tulsa World

A look at this weekend’s match-up with the Golden Hurricane’s beat writer

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Memphis
James Flanders and Tulsa ran for 362 yards in last week’s 59-30 blowout of Memphis.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

After snapping its five-game skid with a 41-3 homecoming win over UCONN last week, East Carolina (3-5, 1-3) will look to garner its first road victory of the season when it travels to Tulsa for a Saturday night match-up with the Golden Hurricane.

The Pirates put together their most complete game of the Scottie Montgomery Era in their rout of the Huskies and they will likely need a similar effort to take down Tulsa.

Philip Montgomery took the Golden Hurricane to a bowl last season and the second-year coach already has this year’s club bowl eligible at 6-2.

Today, we take a look at this weekend’s matchup with Tulsa football beat writer Kelly Hines of the Tulsa World. Follow her coverage of this match-up on Twitter @KellyHinesTW and/or at TulsaWorld.com .

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

After 3-9 and 2-10 campaigns to conclude the Bill Blankenship Era, the Tulsa program really needed new energy and second-year head coach Philip Montgomery has turned things around very quickly. Discuss the Golden Hurricane’s rapid ascension under the former Baylor offensive coordinator and what their new leader brings to the table.

Tulsa World’s Kelly Hines:

When Montgomery took over, the players were coming off two rough seasons in which they won a combined five games. There wasn’t a lot of energy of excitement surrounding the program. That quickly changed, and Montgomery made the team believe it was capable of achieving more. While relying on mostly the same personnel, Tulsa went from two victories in 2014 to six in 2015 and could reach 10 in 2016. It’s obvious this program is trending upward under Montgomery.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

Every successful offense features a quality signal-caller and Tulsa certainly has just that in long-time starter Dane Evans. The redshirt senior has started 38 of his last 39 games at quarterback dating back to the second half of his freshman season. If he remains healthy, he should pass Paul Smith as the program’s career passing leader in terms of yards. Talk about what he has meant to this program in terms of production, leadership and so forth.

Tulsa World’s Kelly Hines:

It’s pretty incredible how much Dane Evans has progressed since his redshirt freshman season when he was thrown into the fire before he was ready. His stats aren’t as strong as they were last year because the Hurricane run game has been so successful, but Dane is undoubtedly the leader of this offense and has flourished as an in-game manager. He’s always had the best arm in the program and this season he’s added another dimension to his game while scoring two winning touchdowns on quarterback keepers.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

Under Art Briles, the Baylor offense was always able to hurt you with the run and pass. Philip Montgomery has brought that same style and balance to Tulsa.

Last year’s team ran effectively at times, but this season’s club has taken its ground game to another level. Talk about the development of the Golden Hurricane’s potent zone rushing attack. During his weekly press conference, ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery stated that the Tulsa offensive line will be one of the best the Pirates have seen to date. Their success has paved the way for backs like James Flanders (899 yards and 12 TD) and D’Angelo Brewer (803 yards and 4 TD) to rush for more than 1,700 yards and 16 scores.

Tulsa World’s Kelly Hines:

The offensive line replaced both starting guards from last season as well as the offensive line coach and played two games without its starting right guard and starting right tackle because of injuries. Despite all of that, Tulsa has delivered five games with at least 300 rushing yards including last week against Memphis when the offensive line simply dominated. D’Angelo Brewer has been banged up, leading to exceptional outings by James Flanders in the last couple of games. An underrated asset in the run game has been tight end Chris Minter, who is an incredible blocker.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

After missing nine games with an injury last year, Keevan Lucas has had an excellent senior campaign and leads the club with 53 catches for 754 yards and 8 touchdowns. Josh Atkinson (44-591-3) and Justin Hobbs (33-446-3) also appear to be playmakers for Tulsa’s explosive attack. What are Lucas’ strengths? Are there others that the Pirates need to be aware of?

Tulsa World’s Kelly Hines:

Keevan Lucas is a dynamic playmaker with vise-grip hands along with speed to outrun the secondary for bonus yards after the catch. Josh Atkinson and Justin Hobbs are solid deep threats. Those three are Tulsa’s primary receivers, but freshman Keenen Johnson made his career debut three weeks ago and already ranks fourth on the team in catches and receiving yards. He appears on track to become Lucas’ replacement.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

While 31.9 ppg and 419.9 yards per game isn’t going to garner any attention, Tulsa is much better on defense than a season ago when it yielded 39.8 ppg and 536.6 yards.

What have been contributing factors in the improved performance this year? Who are some of the top players at each level of the defense (line, linebackers and secondary)?

Tulsa World’s Kelly Hines:

This defense is night-and-day better than last year’s. Every position is dramatically improved. Although Tulsa is still susceptible to giving up explosive plays, it ranks sixth nationally in three-and-outs forced behind some of the best teams in the country. Jesse Brubaker has been lights-out at defensive end after moving from tackle, and he has racked up 10 TFLs. Middle linebacker Trent Martin is a gritty veteran who leads the team in tackles. Cornerback Keanu Hill and strong safety Jeremy Brady are the most consistent members of the secondary, but Hill is unlikely to play Saturday with a knee injury and Brady is day-to-day with a shoulder injury.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

After being atrocious on special teams in the first five or six games, those units have steadily improved the last few times out. How is Tulsa’s kicking game? What are the strengths? Weaknesses?

Tulsa World’s Kelly Hines:

The kicking game has been fairly solid as of late. Dalton Parks has boomed two punts so far the returner had to back-pedal and wound up muffing the punt, leading to easy touchdowns. Redford Jones has connected on 14 of 18 field-goal attempts and is 41-for-41 on PATs. Those guys may not be overwhelmingly impressive, but they have become more consistent and that’s all that is asked of them.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

East Carolina has won six straight over Tulsa, but the Golden Hurricane is currently an 8-point favorite on Saturday. How do you see this year’s match-up unfolding and why?

Tulsa World’s Kelly Hines:

The Pirates likely can exploit a short-handed Tulsa secondary that will struggle to contain Zay Jones, but the Hurricane should have an advantage running the ball like it has done throughout the season. After knocking off Memphis to stay in contention for a division title, this team is riding high and should be able to secure the home victory.