Tulsa football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Golden Hurricane, best players and season prediction.
It’s a start. An important first step for a program feverishly looking to recapture its old formula for success.
Tulsa won six games and lost an Independence Bowl shootout to Virginia Tech in head coach Philip Montgomery’s first season. Finishing a game below .500 doesn’t sound like much, but it is progress for a team that had won just five combined games in the previous two years. Even more important than the record is the reality that the Golden Hurricane should be even more comfortable with the staff and the systems in Year 2 with Montgomery in charge.
As expected, the offense was way ahead of the defense a year ago. No surprise, considering Montgomery’s background as an Art Briles disciple and a purveyor of high-scoring offenses. Tulsa let loose with the ball, averaging 37 point per game with a fun product that returns many key contributors, like QB Dane Evans, backs D’Angelo Brewer and Ramadi Warren and receivers Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson. This could become Baylor light in 2016, but …
… the defense remains a major liability. And without some degree of improvement at stopping the other guys, Tulsa could be straddling the .500 mark for a second straight year.
The Golden Hurricane was feeble defensively last fall, too often offsetting the gains on offense. The team gave up nearly 40 points a game, including 55 in that season-ending loss to the Hokies. And since this is largely a meat-and-potatoes outfit, any gains in 2016 are likely to be incremental. Tulsa will rolls up its sleeves and score a few defensive touchdowns, but will it matter against the likes of Houston, the gatekeeper of the American’s West Division?
Tulsa is in the midst of its rockiest stretch since the beginning of the century. But the program is beginning to trend north, especially on offense, and it’s not as if prosperity is buried deep in the rear view mirror. From 2005-2012, the Hurricane gusted forcefully with four 10-win seasons and a pair of Conference USA championships. Returning to that degree of Group of Five success in the tougher American is the goal of Montgomery, who the administration feels is the right coach to light the renaissance fuse.
Tulsa probably doesn’t catch Houston this season. With further progress, though, the Hurricane could realistically begin dreaming about titles again in 2017.
What You Need To Know About The Tulsa Offense
The hurry-up Hurricane offense is off and running under head coach Philip Montgomery, one of the hottest coordinators and quarterback coaches when he was at Baylor and Houston. In Montgomery’s first season, Tulsa increased its year-over-year scoring by almost two touchdowns a game.
There are few reasons to believe the attack will retreat in 2016. Dane Evans is back after throwing for 25 scores and more than 4,000 yards and cutting down on his mistakes. Surrounding the senior will be an outstanding supporting cast headlined by versatile RB D’Angelo Brewer and receivers Keevan Lucas, Josh Atkinson and Justin Hobbs. Lucas was all set to explode in 2015, but was shelved by a Game 4 knee injury. Tulsa’s biggest—and possibly only—concern is up front.
A year after yielding 41 sacks, the Hurricane must replace experienced guards Garrett Stafford and Chris Wallace, who elected to forego a fifth season of eligibility.
Biggest Key To The Tulsa Offense
The O-line’s trajectory. Winning games in 2016 will again be the responsibility of the high-powered offense. But that offense won’t fulfill its potential if the line doesn’t improve from last year, when 41 sacks were allowed. Both guards are gone to graduation, leaving LT Evan Plagg as the group’s new front man. The Hurricane is cautiously optimistic that Blake Belcher, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the opener, can return this summer to plug a hole at right tackle or one of the guard openings.
What You Need To Know About The Tulsa Defense
High risk, high reward. In many respects, the Hurricane D is a reflection of the offense … except not nearly as successful. Defense was Tulsa’s Achilles heel in 2015, and likely will be again in 2016. Bill Young’s kids are going to scrap and claw and attack, but they’re just not very good.
There’s not a single defender who jumps off the tape as an obvious candidate to play on Sundays. Last year’s squad was gutted for almost 40 points per game and well over five yards a carry.
The unit most likely to spark improvement is the linebackers, the productive blue-collar trio of Trent Martin, Matt Linscott and Craig Suits.
However, they too will need to be more fundamentally sound to offset a front wall that bends at the point of attack and a soft secondary that could start a rookie, redshirt freshman Reggie Robinson, at one corner spot. Fingers are also crossed that junior DE Jeremy Smith can blossom into a worthy pass-rushing successor to Derrick Alexander.
Biggest Key To The Tulsa Defense
The linebackers to command overtime pay. Tulsa has had recent problems defending the pass and harassing the quarterback. But the Hurricane is set at the second level with three veterans who are poised to clean up a lot of messes. STAR Matt Linscott, MLB Trent Martin and WLB Craig Suits are the undisputed leaders of this shaky D. Linscott and Martin were terrific a year ago, and Suits is healthy again after playing at less than 100% in 2015.
Tulsa Will Be Far Better If …
the defense is even remotely stingier than it was the last couple of years. The Golden Hurricane is too soft and not quite as opportunistic as it needs to be. And while this program will pass or fail on the strength of its offensive playmakers, those skill guys are going to benefit if the D can get the ball back to them quicker. Tulsa gave up almost 40 points per game, and it ranked 116th nationally in yards per play allowed.
Best Tulsa Offensive Player
Junior WR Keevan Lucas. For the Hurricane offense to click up to Philip Montgomery’s expectations, it needs playmakers in the passing game. In Lucas, the team boasts one of the most dangerous slot receivers in the Group of Five. After missing most of 2015 to a knee injury, he’s getting closer to a return. And he’s itching for the opportunity to showcase all of his explosiveness as the centerpiece of a wide-open attack.
Best Tulsa Defensive Player
Senior LB Trent Martin. Tulsa is in solid shape at linebacker, with Martin heading the charge. He’s one of the smartest and toughest members of the squad, a particular benefit for a team with so many defensive shortcomings. For one final year, Martin will be the tone-setter from middle linebacker, sparking the Hurricane players around him with his demeanor, know-how and consistency in the open field.
Key Player To A Successful Season
The new offensive guards. Forget the defense for now. Yeah, it would be great if the D flipped the script, but don’t bank on it. Tulsa will have to continue cranking on offense to take the next step under Montgomery. And if QB Dane Evans, RB D’Angelo Brewer and receivers Josh Atkinson and Keevan Lucas are going to be unleashed, massive—and inexperienced—guards Tyler Bowling and Alex Pagonis must perform like they’ve been in this spot before.
The Tulsa Season Will Be A Success If …
the Golden Hurricane finishes above .500 for the first time in four years. Unlike this time last year, the staff and the personnel aren’t so unfamiliar with one another. The players have a much tighter handle on the various systems, and the coaches know the identities of their go-to guys. There’s a solid base of returning talent, including a veteran quarterback, and a September slate that includes San Jose State, North Carolina A&T and Fresno State affords a shot at a fast start.
Oct 15 at Houston. Tulsa wants to be more than just a team that squeaks into a nonsense bowl game. Montgomery expects to compete for titles, which is in this team’s recent DNA. The Hurricane will get an opportunity to measure itself against the American favorite when it travels to Houston in mid-October. Pull that upset against Greg Ward Jr. & Co., and Tulsa can seriously dream about winning the league’s West Division.
2015 Tulsa Fun Stats:
– Points Per Game: Tulsa 37.2 – Opponents 39.8
– Sacks: Tulsa 21 – Opponents 41
– Time of Possession: Tulsa 27:44 – Opponents 32:16