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Keys to the Game: Can Tulsa Return to Winning Ways Against Florida Atlantic?

After a tough day against Oklahoma last week, the Golden Hurricane get the opportunity to get back to winning ways against Florida Atlantic, who've had a very rough start to the season. What must Tulsa do to overcome the Owls?

A microcosm of the Oklahoma game.
A microcosm of the Oklahoma game.
Wesley Hitt

Last week was tough. After an exciting win over Tulane to start the season, the Hurricane were brought back to earth with a bump against Oklahoma, looking very exposed at times in the 52-7. The Owls are coming from a similar situation, having played Nebraska and Alabama in the first two weeks and losing by a combined score of 96-7. That makes them something of an unknown quantity when playing more appropriate opposition, and therefore potentially dangerous. Still, Tulsa has work to do regardless, so let's have a look at what needs to be sorted out this week to make the FAU game that little bit easier.

Time to sort out the run defense

Is the run defense really that bad? You better believe it. The Golden Hurricane have allowed 515 yards and 5 TDs over the first two games of the season. Included in there are run of 90, 73 and 82 yards. Most of the damage has been done on first down, and the defense has only managed 6 tackles for loss so far, despite some decent talent on the unit. Florida Atlantic have only rushed for 162 yards so far this season, but they were greatly out-manned in both games. Running back Jay Warren was actually mildly successful in both games, leading the team with 133 yards on 23 carries so far. He has a long of 31 yards (against Alabama, no less). With a solid offensive line in front of him, Warren will likely see plenty of carries until the Hurricane can prove they can stop him.

Battle of receivers

Both teams have an excellent receiver to count on. Tulsa's Keevan Lucas, with 23 receptions for 317 yards and 4 TDs already, has nearly matched his 2013 totals. The Hurricane will try to get the ball to him in a number of ways, as his 3 carries for 36 yards against Tulane suggests. Lucas performed well against Oklahoma, with 10 receptions, and he'll be glad not to face a secondary akin to the Sooners again this season, but the Owls have one of the best secondaries in the G5, even if it wasn't obvious the last couple of weeks. Expect Dane Evans to look for Lucas early and often.

Likewise, FAU have a quality receiver of their own in Lucky Whitehead. While he was limited to just 11 catches for 82 yards and a TD over the last two weeks, he is capable of better, and should have more success against a Tulsa secondary that has shown an alarming vulnerability to the big play. Like Lucas, Whitehead will see the ball in many ways, something else to watch out for, and he has shown some wiggle as a kick returner. Having quarterback Jaquez Johnson back from injury should give an added boost.

"Hang on the damn ball!"

So far this season, the Hurricane have turned the ball over 5 times, 4 of them being Evans interceptions. FAU have some playmakers in the secondary, who will be lying in wait for the flaky Evans to start tossing the ball around when a defensive end gets within 10 feet of him. The offense needs to do a good job of protecting Evans, and to be fair, the line has been decent so far this season. The Owls have an okay pass rush, but don't be surprised if they bring the house while leaving the coverage up to the secondary alone. Tulsa will try and protect Evans with short passes and running, but the coaching staff will need to open up the playbook sooner rather than later, or it will be another long season.