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2020 Week 4 Preview: Tulsa Golden Hurricane @ Arkansas State Red Wolves

After heartbreaker in Stillwater, Tulsa aims to cut penalties, improve offense during trip to Arkansas State.

Arkansas State v Kansas State Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Author’s Update — 9/23/2020 at 2:53 p.m. ET

Saturday’s game between Arkansas State and Tulsa has been canceled due to COVID-19 related issues for Arkansas State, as reported by Stadium’s Brett McMurphy.

The Athletic’s Chris Vannini provides the reasoning that the Red Wolves do not have substantial players available in a position group. This same issue caused Arkansas State’s previous game against Central Arkansas to be canceled.


Game Notes

Time and Date: Saturday, September 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Network: ESPN2

Location: Centennial Bank Stadium — Jonesboro, AR

Spread: Arkansas State (-2)

ESPN FPI: Tulsa 53.7% chance to win

All-time series: Arkansas State leads series 3-2

Last meeting: Arkansas State 29, Tulsa 20 — September 15, 2018


Different Big 12 opponents, different outcomes

Tulsa was so close to taking down No. 11 in the country.

You could say, Oklahoma State grasped onto victory by the bars of a face mask. If not for the Cowboys’ red zone penalty, Tulsa running back Deneric Prince breaks through for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Instead, Tulsa’s sequence by the goal line was disastrous. A false start penalty cost the Golden Hurricane an opportunity at a touchdown and they shanked the game-tying field goal on fourth down.

Tulsa’s terrible luck from the 2019 season came back to bite in the opener after a textbook defensive showing through three quarters. The Golden Hurricane allowed one touchdown to a team with the 2019 FBS rushing leader and a former Biletnikoff finalist at wide receiver, but 120 penalty yards on 15 calls and an 0/12 third down conversion rate force Tulsa to enter Jonesboro, AR at 0-1.

Arkansas State (1-1) is finally home after two road trips to Memphis and Kansas State to open the season. The Red Wolves fell to the 2019 AAC champion Tigers 37-24 but rebounded in impressive fashion to upset the Wildcats in Big 12 country during Week 2 of the young 2020 season. Nine starters sat out during Arkansas State’s first win over a Big 12 opponent since 2008, but the Red Wolves got a great boost from wide receiver Jonathan Adams, Jr. who scored three touchdowns including the game-winner in Manhattan, KS.


Matchup of the game

Jonathan Adams Jr. vs. Allie Green IV

Adams is a star in the making. The wide receiver’s highlights were plastered all over the internet after the win over Kansas State. Adams finished the afternoon with a series of acrobatic catches in his 8-reception, 92-yard outing. Contested catches are his strongpoint. The strength Adams applies when hauling in the pigskin is often unmatched by defenders, and he remains fixated on the ball’s location throughout the entire catch process.

Last season, Adams was overshadowed on the depth chart by consensus All-American wide receiver Omar Bayless and his sidekick Kirk Merritt. But as the top option, he presents a problem for defenders and is an early candidate for Biletnikoff Award consideration.

Speaking of Biletnikoff wide receivers, Tulsa cornerback Allie Green IV isn’t afraid of them. He drew arguably the toughest assignment in college football last Saturday facing Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace. Don’t let Wallace’s 94 yards fool you — Green was phenomenal. He wasn’t afraid to get physical in coverage and limited Wallace to just four catches. Green also intercepted his first career pass by assuming perfect position on a curl flat.

What’s unique about this matchup for Adams is that he’s facing a cornerback who matches his size. Adams and Green both stand 6’3”, so expect a physical matchup between the No. 1 Arkansas State receiver and No. 1 Tulsa cornerback Saturday afternoon.


Are two quarterbacks better than one?

How long is it going to last? We’ve seen teams run two quarterback systems before, often when teams employ one pocket passer quarterback and one who demonstrates stronger mobility. But the two players in Arkansas State’s ongoing quarterback rotation are rather similar, and they’re both capable starters on many FBS teams.

In both of Arkansas State’s games, Logan Bonner got the start. Then, Layne Hatcher checked in later in the first quarter and the two rotated possessions throughout the contest. Hatcher was charged with the closing duties in Week 2, completing two passes for 38 yards on the game-winning possession. Through two games, here is the statistical comparison between the two:

  • Logan Bonner — 31/51 (60.8%), 337 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT, 3 sacks taken
  • Layne Hatcher — 19/28 (67.9%), 227 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 3 sacks taken

Splitting repetitions between two quarterbacks is a rarity in the middle of the season, but it appears Blake Anderson will continue his system until one quarterback clearly wins the starting role.

For Tulsa, the starter is clearly Zach Smith. The ex-Baylor quarterback had an unexpectedly low passing output with 166 yards in the opener. Excluding the 2019 UCF game where he left due to injury, his 28 attempts were his second fewest at Tulsa. But Smith still delivered with 18 completions and one touchdown, although a garbage time interception in the final seconds hampered his otherwise mistake-free day.

Smith has proven to be a consistent 300-yard passer. He attained that mark in five of his 12 starts last fall while closing the season with his best work — a 331-yard, 5-touchdown effort at East Carolina. Although backup Seth Boomer has plenty of starting experience, expect Tulsa to counter Arkansas State’s two quarterbacks with just one signal caller.


Skill position playmakers

The Red Wolves’ best offensive player is Adams, who seems bound for a dominant performance every time he takes the field. But Adams’ counterpart in the receiving game could make a return for Week 4. Dahu Green, the leading receiver from the Memphis game, sat out against Kansas State for undisclosed reasons, but Hatcher and Bonner would love to have their 6’4” receiver back for a matchup with Tulsa’s other tall cornerback, 6’2” junior Akayleb Evans. If Green remains out, Texas A&M transfer Roshaaud Paul presents another viable threat in Arkansas State’s receiving corps. Also operating as a return specialist, Paul put the burners on in Manhattan with 77 yards and a touchdown in the upset.

Tulsa suffered a devastating loss days prior to kickoff when 1,000-yard rusher Shamari Brooks tore his ACL in practice. While it seemed the Golden Hurricane would turn to Corey Taylor II — a valuable contributor as a secondary back over the past two seasons — running back Deneric Prince appears to be the feature back for now. In his first major collegiate action, Prince performed well against a solid Oklahoma State defense. He registered 82 yards on 14 attempts and nearly broke through for that go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, if not for the defender grabbing his face mask.

Tulsa’s receiving corps is deep with the likes of Keylon Stokes, Sam Crawford Jr., and Josh Johnson forming a trio which attempts to match Arkansas State’s powerful triumvirate. Stokes is the only receiver in this game with a 1,000-yard season under his belt and he caught four passes for 55 yards in Stillwater last Saturday. Perhaps Johnson will experience a breakthrough season after a team-high 63 yards last week and Tulsa’s only touchdown of the season.


Defensive standouts to watch

Tulsa’s turnover chain isn’t as renowned as the one which resides in South Beach, but the Golden Hurricane got good use out of it with two takeaways against the Oklahoma State offense. Allie Green IV intercepted the lone pass of the game and the team forced All-American running back Chuba Hubbard to fumble in the first quarter.

Even when excluding the forced turnovers, Tulsa’s defense Saturday was an extraordinary upgrade over the unit from 2019. Only four starters returned and one of them accelerated his game to the next level, outside linebacker Zaven Collins. The junior wreaked havoc with three sacks and four tackles for loss in the opener. He finished second on the Golden Hurricane in sacks a season ago and already beat his previous mark. The sample size is small, but Collins leads all FBS players in sacks among those who have played just one game.

Arkansas State’s premier talent on defense resides within the secondary. The Red Wolves feature a safety tandem of excellent tackles. Free safety Anthony Switzer and strong safety Antonio Fletcher combine for 18 total tackles this season, and both defenders have seven solo tackles to their name. They’ll be instrumental in zone coverage against Tulsa’s myriad of weapons in the receiving game. Both safeties are hungry for their first career interception and hope to create a play which swings the momentum at Centennial Bank Stadium this weekend.


Prediction

The Vegas favorite and ESPN FPI favorite contradict each other for this game. Basically, this is viewed as a toss up. Through a limited sample size, Arkansas State appears to be more offensively sound but Tulsa’s defense shocked the college football world by holding Oklahoma State to one touchdown on the road.

The Red Wolves need to find success through Jonathan Adams Jr. against Allie Green IV and Tulsa’s physical secondary. When the going got tough in Manhattan, Adams served as a “get out of jail free” pass and Arkansas State could use that security blanket throughout the season.

For Tulsa to win, it begins with establishing a ground game. Arkansas State’s defense lost when allowing 222 yards to Memphis but triumphed after holding Kansas State to 91 yards on 2.3 yards per carry. Deneric Prince should be the focal point of Tulsa’s offense in this one, and the Golden Hurricane can bring their record back to .500 with a strong showing from the tailback.

It’s going to be a thrilling finish in Jonesboro, and in a close game, field goal kicking is key. Due to kicking, a close game will favor Arkansas State. Tulsa made 15/24 field goal attempts last year and missed a 26-yard chip shot to tie the game in the fourth quarter last week, so that remains a concern for Philip Montgomery’s team. The Golden Hurricane must also limit penalties if they want to complete the victory on the road this time.

There are a number of must-watch playmakers in this game from Adams to Zaven Collins, and this should be one of the top three games of Week 4 of the college football season. It will come down to fourth quarter playmaking and Adams will deliver in crunch time once again.

Prediction: Arkansas State 31, Tulsa 28