Matt Rechtien" />
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Sunday, September 24, 2023


The Other Side: Keys to a Tulsa victory


The Golden Hurricane defensive line had their strongest game against North Carolina A&T and will need a repeat performance to contain Greg Ward Jr. and upset the Cougars. | Courtesy of Dalton Stewart/The Collegian

The United States Naval Academy’s win over Houston proved that the Cougars are not an unstoppable force in the conference, and they can be beaten.

Here is what Tulsa needs to do to hand Houston their second loss of the season.

Momentum early

The most important thing that the Golden Hurricane must do is gain offensive momentum early on in the game. Except for a win over Football Championship Subdivision team North Carolina A&T, the Golden Hurricane have struggled to maintain offensive pressure. They have often been forced to punt or settle for field goals in the first quarter.

The Golden Hurricane have put up 43 points or more and 500 yards of offense, even with slow starts in their last two games, but both were settled in overtime.

Houston won’t offer that luxury. The Cougars, on average, only allow up 17 points per game, so Tulsa has to put their foot on the pedal early and convert red-zone possessions into touchdowns, not field goals.

Strong passing game

Senior quarterback Dane Evans has not had as good a season as he did last year.

Through thirteen games last season, he averaged 333 yards per game. He also threw 25 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.

Through five games this season — though he was pulled early in the San Jose State University and North Carolina A&T wins — he’s only averaging 227 yards and already has seven interceptions.

Evans must get back on track to his 2015 form because if the Golden Hurricane have to rely only on rushing alone, the Cougars will stack the box. Unlike Navy, the Golden Hurricane running game is more conventional, and Houston will be better prepared to stop it.

Running backs D’Angelo Brewer and James Flanders will have more freedom to break free and make plays if Evans is able to air it out to Keevan Lucas, who returns this season after suffering a season ending injury last season, Josh Atkinson or Justin Hobbes consistently.

Running pressure

Brewer and Flanders have combined to average over 200 yards of rushing per game this season, but are faced with the tall task of keeping up that success against the fourth-best rushing defense in the country.

Navy rushed for 306 yards, but in the prior seven games, no team got more than 100 yards against the Cougars.

When Evans was shut down against Ohio State — the only other top-10 defense that the Golden Hurricane have played this season — Brewer and Flanders were held to just over 100 yards between the two of them.

In order to beat the Cougars, the Golden Hurricane offense must be firing on all cylinders in all phases.

Defense must stand strong

In the last two games, the Golden Hurricane gave up 81 points to Fresno State University and Southern Methodist University. They can’t give up that many points and still win against a top-15 team.

Last season, the defense struggled to contain Greg Ward Jr., who threw for 272 yards and ran for 182 and three scores. Unfortunately for Tulsa, Ward is still leading the Houston offense and their team is stronger than it was last season.

The defense will have to step up to contain Ward and not let him beat them on the ground. Linebackers Trent Martin and Petera Wilson Jr., the leaders on the defensive side, have to take charge.

Forcing Ward to beat them with his arm will give the Golden Hurricane a better chance to win, because he’s already proven that he can beat them with his feet.

The Golden Hurricane will be challenged tremendously Saturday. The Cougars need to win every game and get help to win the American Athletic Conference West at this point, while the Golden Hurricane still control their own destiny in the conference.

My prediction: Cougars 38 – Tulsa 28.

Matt Rechtien is the sports editor of The Collegian — the student newspaper of the University of Tulsa.

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