In an effort to get Oklahoma State fans prepped for Saturday’s game against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, we teamed up with our SB Nation colleagues over at Underdog Dynasty. Shout out to Steve Helwick for taking the time to answer our questions!
1. I’ve read quite a bit this week about how Tulsa is quite loaded at running back this year. How do you see the RB position fitting in the Hurricane game plan on Saturday?
Tulsa leaned heavily on the rushing game in its last encounter with Oklahoma State. With 32 college games under his belt, running back Shamari Brooks has only received more handoffs than he had versus the Cowboys (29) twice. Brooks managed to pour 107 yards on the Oklahoma State defense in the matchup, but the Cowboy defense prevented him from breaking out for long runs. He isn’t the only senior back that will be featured in Tulsa’s offense Saturday. Corey Taylor II, an 846-yard rusher in 2018, rushed the ball 13 times in the 2019 Oklahoma State game, and I’d expect a similar 67-33-ish split between Brooks and Taylor. Since the Golden Hurricane’s best games in 2019 were ground-oriented, they’ll try to replicate that gameplan, and don’t be surprised if the running back duo finishes with more combined rushing attempts than Chuba Hubbard.
2. Oklahoma State has a trio on offense of Spencer Sanders, Tylan Wallace, and Chuba Hubbard. Who are some of the guys on Tulsa’s defense that will be able to help limit the damage of those guys?
Tulsa’s defense is only returning four starters, so the unit has a new crop of faces this fall. Tulsa lost its best two defenders to the NFL Draft — star pass rusher Trevis Gipson and top coverage corner Reggie Robinson II. One of the few returning starters is senior cornerback Allie Green IV. He’ll likely draw numerous matchups with Tylan Wallace, who was possibly the toughest assignment for any corner in college football prior to the ACL injury. Green is still looking for his first career interception, but he stands 6’3” and moves very well in man-to-man coverage. I was especially impressed with how he handled UCF’s receiving corps in that upset last November considering the NFL talent he matched up against.
Another defender Tulsa will demand to step up this Saturday is outside linebacker Zaven Collins. He finished second in tackles, sacks, and tackles for loss on the Golden Hurricane in 2019, and he’ll be in charge of shooting the gaps and invading the backfield in effort to prevent another 256-yard performance by Chuba Hubbard.
3. What are some stats that fans need to be paying specific attention to from Tulsa come Saturday?
Penalty yards, penalty yards, and penalty yards. Tulsa’s 2019 season was defined by highly correctable errors. The Golden Hurricane were penalized more than any program in the FBS last year, accumulating 79.1 penalty yards per contest — roughly five more than any other team. The yellow flags were particularly lethal in the second half of the Oklahoma State game last year, allowing the Cowboys to win the final two frames by a combined score of 20-0. That afternoon, Tulsa racked up 156 penalty yards on 17 whistles and the Golden Hurricane must play a more disciplined brand of football going forward this year.
Also, a dreadful kicking game plagued Tulsa last season. The team’s kickers landed their attempts through the uprights 15 out of 24 times (62.5%). Missing two easy overtime field goals cost Tulsa a game against 10-3 SMU and missing a 29-yard field goal at the buzzer prevented Tulsa from a landmark upset over AAC champion Memphis. Kickoff specialist Zack Long is the likely candidate to take over that role this year, and it’s an area the Golden Hurricane must improve upon if they want to succeed in close games.
4. What’s the #1 thing OSU fans should know about this team come Saturday?
The 2019 Tulsa team was miles better than its 4-8 record suggested. Many Oklahoma State fans may have figured this out when the Golden Hurricane entered halftime with a 21-20 lead last September, but this team is capable of great things. Tulsa did the unthinkable and upset UCF last November (and was a kick away from beating SMU and Memphis), and in an AAC deeper than ever, I wouldn’t consider any of its eight shortcomings a “bad loss”.
What makes this team better than other 4-8 squads? The Golden Hurricane are very adept offensively, and Baylor transfer Zach Smith is a capable quarterback who threw for 300 yards in five of twelve games in 2019. His top two weapons of Keylon Stokes and Sam Crawford Jr. are back, and they won’t have to deal with lining up against A.J. Green in this rematch. With a solid running game as a staple of Philip Montgomery’s offense, the Golden Hurricane become an extremely pesky offense to stop if Smith catches fire. The only concern with the offense is the line, which yielded more than three sacks per game a season ago.
5. Last year’s game was 40-21 loss at home for the Golden Hurricane. What to you feel like has changed since last season that might give the Hurricane a chance for revenge?
Difference in preparation. This is (hopefully) the most bizarre college football season we’ll ever see due to the constant rescheduling and postponement of games, canceling of practices, and general wave of uncertainty. We’ve seen some programs such as Navy, a team which finished No. 20 last season, look like it hadn’t practiced tackling in a year and got boat raced as a result. Preparation issues have affected the Big 12 as well, especially for an Iowa State team that struggled mightily with special teams coverage and general offensive execution. In a normal year, with a more confident sophomore quarterback and the best RB and WR in college football, I’d pick Oklahoma State to win this game handily. But I think the chaos surrounding the preparation cycle adds randomness to the outcomes this fall. Combine that with Tulsa’s established and experienced skill position players, and that creates a possible recipe for revenge.
6. Score prediction
Oklahoma State wins 49-24. I think Tulsa’s talented offense will match Oklahoma State drive-for-drive in the beginning, but once Oklahoma State’s defense creates its first major momentum swing in the second or third quarter, the Cowboys will coast to victory behind a 150+ yard showing from Chuba Hubbard. Given the horsepower of both running back groups and the wide receivers in this matchup, there should be no shortage in touchdowns Saturday in Stillwater.