Mark down Tulsa's offensive transformation as complete.
As for the alterations on defense, hang a sign that reads "Caution: Under Construction".
In 2013 Tulsa ranked 104th in total offense averaging 356 yards per game. A slight upward tick occurred the following season as the Hurricane offense rose to 78th in the country.
Then came Phil Montgomery and Operation Baylor.
In just his first season as head coach, the Art Briles product orchestrated Tulsa's high-powered offense to a Top-15 national ranking. At the season's end however, Tulsa found themselves staring down the barrel of a mediocre 6-6 record and a trip to the inconsequential Camping World Independence Bowl.
A post-season bowl game is great for a team that only collected 5 wins the previous two seasons. Which begs the question, "Will fans sit through another year of nail-biting games in which the offense regularly posted 35+ points only to see the defense hand over the win?"
It's cliche but true, "Offense lights up the scoreboard, but defense wins games".
In seven games last season the Hurricanes surrendered a staggering 563, 773, 638, 704, 524, 530 and 650 yards. Overall, Tulsa ranked 125th out of 128 teams in total yards allowed giving up an average of 536 yards per game. Another head-scratcher was their inability to stop the run. Point fingers towards the run defense as the broken cog in an unbalanced machine.
Tulsa's run defense allowed an average, an average, of 239 yards per game and were ranked 117th among FBS schools. Their porous front seven allowed 70+ yards above the NCAA average (168 y/g) which loosely translated into more (or longer) drives for opposing offenses to sustain ball control.
Even a prolific offensive scheme like Montgomery's cannot ensure wins if their defense cannot protect leads.
To put this into perspective, last season's American Athletic Conference champion Houston Cougars ranked 8th in rushing yards allowed (108) and ranked 53rd in total yards allowed (383) en route to a stunning 38-24 Peach Bowl victory over #9 Florida State. Houston had one of the best balanced teams in the nation.
On the flip side, the AAC's worst team, Central Florida, couldn't manage a single victory. Although they ranked a little higher than Tulsa in rushing yards and total yards allowed, the Knights' offense was the polar opposite of Tulsa. While Tulsa's average game score was 36-38, Central Florida was worse at 14-38. Poor UCF not only couldn't score, but they too were unable to stop opponents from scoring on them. The Hurricane's played to the tune of "last team scores wins" while UCF was just happy to be in the game come the fourth quarter.
The common denominator in both teams was a lack defensive stopping power.
The AAC standard of a well balanced team is clearly Houston. Tulsa is halfway there as the offense matched Houston pound-for-pound when it came to total offense and points scored. The next challenge for Phil Montgomery is now finding a way to tip the the scales towards the defensive side in order to create that balance.
Second-year defensive coordinator Brian Norwood is accustomed to strong disciplined defenses as evident by his time under one of the game's all time best head coaches in Joe Paterno, as well as his time leading Baylor's defense to Big XII notoriety.
With a stout defensive staff in place the defensive recruits are starting to flow in. The time is now for the Waco-expatriates to radicalize their defensive scheme starting with some senior leadership. Linebackers Matt Linscott and Trent Martin ranked second and third among Hurricane defenders respectively with 107 and 104 tackles. They also combined for seven of the team's twenty-one sacks.
Norwood is going to have to find a way to unleash his tackling duo in order to create chaos in the opponents' backfields. If he can't figure out a way to stop the bleeding, Tulsa fans may be in store for another anti-climatic season: Exciting offensive fireworks sprinkled with disheartening defensive lapses in 2016 and another post-season trip to the lovely confines of Shreveport.