A year ago, this would have been one of the top games to watch in the American Athletic Conference. Tulsa came off a double-digit win season and a bowl win over Central Michigan, and USF had the best year in the program’s history with a win over South Carolina in their bowl game. Both of these teams garnered high praise coming into the season.
But now, the game is not exactly as exciting. Tulsa dropped off big and only has two wins on the year, while USF has under-performed with the loss to Houston. While both have under-performed expectations, this Thursday night game will still be fun one to watch with AAC title implications on the line.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane Outlook:
Coming off a bye week, the Golden Hurricane still have the sour taste of the Memphis loss with them. We continue to watch as Tulsa has been the punching bag for teams this year. Despite their record, they were very competitive in many of their games and should be treated as a worthy adversary. Phillip Montgomery has had a week to watch film and get his team prepared for the travel to Tampa.
Offensively, Tulsa is going to have to lean on their running game to make things easy for Luke Skipper. D’Angelo Brewer and Shamari Brooks are going to have to be factors in this game. If you don’t hear their names called a lot on Thursday night, Tulsa won’t be in this game. Brewer and Brooks have a combined 1,786 yards rushing and have been really the lone bright spot for this Tulsa team.
As Tulsa fans have seen this season, Skipper has struggled. He is barely over 1,000 yards passing and has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. That statistic is not something you want to see going into a game with a ball-hawking secondary that has the most interceptions in the country. Montgomery is going to have to help Skipper out by throwing screens and short routes to the athletes outside the numbers. If Skipper can complete the easy passes and have help from the running game, this will be a much closer game than anticipated.
Defensively, there has to be a concern. They got shredded by Memphis two weeks ago and now face an equally dynamic offense. They have had a full week to prepare for this game, but USF has a chance to attack this defense in a different way. Tulsa allows 270 yards rushing per game, while USF rushes for 276 yards per game. The pass defense has been even worse than the rushing defense, but USF might not have to pass to win this game if the defense can’t stop the run.
South Florida Bulls Outlook:
USF, also coming off a bye week, returned to 2016 form after demolishing UConn. At UConn, Charlie Strong and Sterlin Gilbert adapted the playbook to what the offense did last year. There was still some veer and shoot parts, but Gilbert finally stopped being stubborn and started mixing up the play-calling. With elements back from last year’s offense, USF should be primed for an easy win at home against Tulsa.
Quinton Flowers is back. Against UConn, Flowers totaled 516 yards (385 passing, 131 rushing), as he looked like the most dominant player on the field. Runnin backs Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson were not as strong, but that was mostly because Flowers stole the show. The deep receiving corps, led by Marquez Valdes-Scantling, really produced this game and should continue to do so. If Gilbert continues to good play-calling from last game to the final two, this offense will win based on raw talent.
Defensively, this is the best defense in the AAC. They lead the conference in sacks and interceptions, and are second in passes defended. If you told me this defense was going to go from one of the worst in the country last year to one of the best this year, I would’ve called your bluff. The front seven has done outstanding work, while the secondary has been solid all year (minus an atrocious fourth-and-24 conversion). They will have their hands full with Brewer and Brooks though. The duo is one of the strongest running back duos in the AAC. If the defense gets complacent, Tulsa might have a field day running the ball.
- Tulsa has to lean heavy on the run game and hope they can find some holes. I think Skipper using his legs could also really impact the game on zone-reads.
- Sterlin Gilbert controls how far the USF offense goes. If fans keep seeing the dive play on first down every single time, they will be in for a long game. There were some games that the play-calling has been good. He has to continue that.
- Tulsa defense can’t fold like a cheap suit. They know the USF offense is explosive. They may not be able to contain it fully, but making USF kick field goals instead of touchdowns will be a huge factor. This year, USF has settled for tons of field goals instead of going for it like Willie Taggart used to. Red-zone field goals won’t hurt Tulsa, it’s touchdowns.
- USF has to put an end to the game early. There is an elephant in the room and its UCF. They can’t care about the CFP rankings. If USF wins their last two regular season games, they’re ranked. Style points against Tulsa is unnecessary. Score early, put the subs in and take the easy win while you have it.
Just based on what has happened this season, I have no reason to favor the road team. During AAC mid-week games this season, the road team has only won five times, with three of those wins coming from the top three teams in the AAC. USF is the more athletic team with the one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the game. USF runs all over Tulsa and plays a complete game before heading into the biggest game of the year.
USF 44, Tulsa 17