Location: Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium - Tulsa, OK
Date: Thursday, November 19
Time: 6:30 CT
Records: #25 Tulsa 4-1 (4-0 AAC), Tulane 5-4 (2-4 AAC)
Betting Line: Tulsa -6.0; O/U 53.5
All-Time Series: Tulsa leads 11-5
Last Meeting: Tulane 38, Tulsa 26 (November 2, 2019)
Tulsa will be coming off one of their most thrilling victories in recent memory when they match-up against Tulane on Thursday night in primetime. On Saturday, Tulsa came back from 21-0 to beat SMU 28-24. This win propelled Tulsa into the AP Top 25 rankings for the first time in ten years.
While Tulsa has only played five games, they have proven themselves to be legitimate AAC title contenders, with wins over UCF and SMU, and playing #14 Oklahoma to a nine point game that was really closer than the final score indicated. On the defensive side of the ball, the Golden Hurricane are led by one of the top linebackers in the country in junior Zaven Collins. Collins, a Hominy, OK native, has 34 tackles, four sacks, and three interceptions through five games.
Tulane will come into Tulsa on the heels of a three game winning streak. The Green Wave have put up 30 or more points seven games in a row. The Greenies are led by the star true freshman quarterback Michael Pratt, who has thrown for 1,308 yards and 14 touchdowns on the years. He has also rushed for five touchdowns. Pratt has allowed the Green Wave to finally run the full gamut of Will Hall’s high-octane offense. Tulane is also a team with a dangerous running game. The Green Wave have the 19th best rushing attack in the nation, averaging 224.1 yards per game.
From Tulsa’s Perspective
Philip Montgomery came into this year on the hot-seat at Tulsa. Montgomery who is a disciple of Art Briles’ spread offense at Baylor, was 25-37 coming into this season and only had one season with a winning record in his first five years as the head coach of the Golden Hurricane. In year 6, Montgomery has finally found what it takes to win consistently in the AAC. Montgomery at-last has a consistent gun-slinger in Baylor transfer Zach Smith.
Smith, who is in his second year starting for the Golden Hurricane, has thrown for 1,249 yards and ten touchdowns through Tulsa’s first five games. After throwing a pick-six in the first quarter against SMU last weekend, Smith showed the poise and confidence of the senior that he is, leading the Golden Hurricane to a come from behind win while throwing for three touchdowns and 325 yards. Smith capped the evening off with a go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter to tight end James Palmer.
While Tulsa is widely known for their lethal passing attack, the Golden Hurricane are also able to run the ball well. Tulsa’s rushing attack is led by sophomore Deneric Prince and sophomore T.K. Wilkerson. Prince and Wilkerson have combined for 627 yards and six touchdowns on the year. Prince and Wilkerson force defenses to defend against the run when playing the Golden Hurricane and not just drop back into coverage to defend the air-raid.
Tulsa’s offense also features two receivers with over 300 receiving yards on the year in Keylon Stokes and Josh Johnson. Stokes and Johnson have combined for six touchdown receptions this season and each player averages over 12 yards per catch.
Tulsa boasts the 44th best defense in the nation giving up on average 370.2 yards per game. The Golden Hurricane’s most dominant defensive player is junior Zaven Collins. Collins, who has the talent to play on Sundays, plays a hybrid-linebacker position for Tulsa. This allows Golden Hurricane defensive coordinator Joseph Gillespie to play Collins wherever he sees fit, whether that is in pass coverage, rushing the passer, or stopping the run.
Last week against SMU, Tulsa did an outstanding job of stopping the Mustangs’ 16th best offense in the nation. SMU averages 506.8 yards per game, but only managed to gain 351 yards against the Golden Hurricane. While SMU scored 24 points against Tulsa, seven of those points came on a pick-six and another seven came on a drive where SMU started from Tulsa’s 19 yard line.
From Tulane’s Perspective
Willie Fitz’s Tulane team has scored 30 or more points in seven straight games, something a Green Wave team has not done since the fabled 1998 squad accomplished the same feat. Tulane’s precocious offensive coordinator Will Hall, who is only 40, has the Green Wave averaging 404.3 yards per game. Freshman quarterback Michael Pratt’s expediated development has allowed Hall’s offense to progress to a more refined product at a faster pace than the coaches on the staff thought was possible. In Pratt’s first start against Houston, the Boca Raton, FL native only completed 44% of his passes. In Tulane’s last game against Army, Pratt was able to complete 70.4% of his passes.
Pratt’s rapid progression has only made Tulane’s rushing attack more lethal. Since Willie Fritz became the Green Wave head coach in 2016, Tulane has always had a strong ground game, but never a consistent passing attack to go along with it. This imbalance allowed opposing defenses to stack-the-box against the Green Wave, and never allowed for Tulane’s rushing attack to fully blossom. This year, even with their top two running backs out for the season, the Green Wave are averaging 224.1 yards per game, which is good enough for the 19th best rushing attack in the nation.
After struggling against the pass through their first six games, Tulane’s secondary has shown marked improvement over the past three games, giving up only 176.3 yards per game. While giving up only 33 passing yards to Army is nothing to write home about, Tulane’s defensive backs have noticeably looked more competent and confident on the field over the last three games. Junior cornerback Willie Langham has logged two interceptions in the Green Wave’s last three games.
If Tulane wants to stop Zach Smith and Tulsa’s air-raid on Thursday night, the secondary will have to step-up and continue their solid play. While Tulane has been able to piece together some good pass coverage against middling passing attacks, this unit has yet to prove that they can stop the conference’s most dangerous quarterbacks.
Tulane boasts one of the best defensive lines in the AAC that is led by senior Patrick Johnson. Johnson has ten sacks and two forced fumbles on the year and is likely to be an early-round draft pick in Cleveland come April. Johnson’s line-mates, Cameron Sample and Jeffrey Johnson have combined for seven sacks on the year as well.
One of Tulane’s shortcomings this year has been their ability to stop opposing offenses on third down. The Green Wave’s defense ranks 60th in the nation in third down defense, allowing opponents to convert on third down 39.7% of the time. This proved especially costly for the Green Wave against SMU earlier in the year, when the Mustangs were able to convert ten of their 18 third down attempts in what ended up being a three point loss in overtime for the Green Wave. Many of SMU’s third down conversions occurred when they were in third and ten, or longer, situations.
If Tulane expects to be competitive against a Tulsa team that runs a very similar offense to SMU’s, the Green Wave should look to drop back into zone coverage a bit more on third and long situations to prevent Tulsa from getting first downs in those spots.
This game means a lot to the Green Wave faithful, not only because it would be the first time since 1979 that Tulane has beaten a ranked opponent twice in a season, but because Tulsa’s interim athletic director is ex-Tulane AD Rick Dickson. Dickson and ex-President Scott Cowen did yeoman's work in raising the funds for Tulane’s new on-campus stadium, Yulman Stadium, along with doing the necessary work to legitimately save the athletic program after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Though I would be remiss not to mention that Tulane fans have some strong feelings, to say the least, about some of Dickson’s personnel decisions during his time in Uptown New Orleans.
The Tulane team that will roll into Tulsa on Thursday is not the same one that lost to Houston, SMU, and UCF. This is an offense that is now much more proficient at executing Will Hall’s game-plan and a defense that has finally started to figure out how to stop the pass. Tulsa is one of the most talented teams in the conference, but head coach Philip Montgomery has a tall order to make sure that Tulsa is not riding too high from its upset win over SMU last week and is ready to face a talented Green Wave team on only four days of rest. This one should be nail-bitter, but I see Tulane squeaking by the Golden Hurricane in the final minutes on a Merek Glover field goal.
Prediction: Tulane 34 - Tulsa 31