First Look: Tulsa

ECU and Tulsa meet in a week seven American Athletic Conference matchup in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Led by new head coach Philip Montgomery, the Tulsa Hurricane storm into Greenville for a conference battle with the Pirates on Oct. 17.

Montgomery, who starts his stint at Tulsa following seven successful seasons as then brainchild behind Baylor’s high scoring offense, inherits a team that picked up just two wins a season ago and suffered a 49-32 loss at the hands of the Pirates in Oklahoma. This season, the Golden Hurricane will be tasked with travelling to Dowdy-Ficklen in an attempt to sink the Pirates.

Tulsa returns 18 starters from last season’s team and gives Montgomery a core of experienced players to build around. 10 offensive starters, two special teams starters and six defensive starters comprise the group of experienced players.

Skill positions alone return 96 percent of its offensive production from last season. Between the returning depth of receiving core, the running backs and quarterback positions, the Golden Hurricane welcome back 5,762 of its 6,069 of its all-purpose yards form last season.

Among those returning is quarterback Dane Evans who was one of the bright spots of Tulsa’s dismal season a year ago. The junior signal caller ranked second in the American Athletic Conference with 258.5 passing yards per game, behind only Shane Carden of the Pirates.

Carden’s departure makes Evans the likely candidate to be an All-Conference quarterback this season, especially if he can build on his 23 touchdowns and 3,102 from last season. Throw Montgomery into the mix and the Tulsa quarterback could be well on his way to more post-season accolades if he can cut back on his interceptions.

Receivers Keyarris Garrett and Keevan Lucas will attempt to take pressure of off Evans in the Tulsa spread offense. The senior and junior receivers had 1,917 receiving yards between them last season.

Lucas led the Golden Hurricane receiving corps with 11 touchdowns and ranked second in the AAC with 107.1 yards per game.

Senior running back Zack Langer offers a deceptive threat behind Evans and the presumably high-flying Tulsa passing attack. Langer had a quietly productive last season, averaging 80.1 rushing yards per game, good for second in the conference. He was also responsible for four touchdowns and notched four 100-yard games on the ground.

However, Evans, Garrett, Lucas and Langer would have a hard time doing much of anything without the help of Tulsa’s big, effective offensive line.

Senior Garrett Stafford is the consummate tackle. With 26 consecutive games under his belt, Stafford leads an undervalued line that helps make the wheels turn on the effective Tulsa offense. Junior guard Chris Wallace started all 12 games last season and helps add on to the experience of the line.

Considering the offensive prowess that Tulsa had last season, and the fact that it returns a lot of those same pieces, it’s not entirely off base to wonder if the defense is what brought the team down last year.

There was only one game last season in which Tulsa held its opponents to 28 points of less. Opponents averaged 39.2 points against it and 486.8 total yards. In total, Tulsa was outscored 471 to 296 last season.

The Golden Hurricane front seven returns four key cogs of last year’s defense. Defensive linemen Derrick Alexander and Derrick Luetjen had 85 tackles between them last season. They also had 12 and 15.5 tackles for a loss respectively.

Backing the senior defensive line duo, junior and sophomore linebackers Trent Martin and Craig Suits will look to have similarly productive seasons.

Martin, who missed three games last season with an injury, managed to accumulate 64 tackles, including eight for a loss. Suits, the sophomore, started all 12 games as a freshman and announced himself as a defensive catalyst thanks to his 81 tackles.

If Montgomery can improve the Tulsa defense and build on the impressive offense, the Golden Hurricane can be a real threat to a Pirate team that will be playing its seventh straight opponent with no break in between.

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