The Tulsa Golden Hurricane return home in search of their third straight win when they host the East Carolina Pirates on Friday night. The Pirates are hitting the road once again following a bye week, with their only win of the season coming in Tampa against USF on Oct. 10.
East Carolina squared off with Navy two weeks ago coming off that win against USF and fell behind 27-13 after three quarters. The Pirates battled back by scoring 10 points in the fourth but couldn't complete the comeback and fell short 27-23. Tulsa also had success against South Florida, winning in dominant fashion last Friday by a score of 42-13. The Golden Hurricane totaled 462 yards of offense in the win, in which USF had cut Tulsa's lead to 21-13 in the third quarter before the Golden Hurricane scored the game's final 21 points.
Tulsa seeks its third straight win in the series, which would even the all-time tally at 8-8. The Golden Hurricane started with three straight wins against the Pirates, which won six in a row from 2008-15 before Tulsa came back with wins in 2016 (45-24 in Tulsa) and 2019 (49-24 in Greenville).
East Carolina at Tulsa
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 23 at 9 p.m. ET
Spread: Tulsa -18
When East Carolina Has the Ball
The Pirates should get a spark with the likely return of quarterback Holton Ahlers, who missed the Navy game after testing positive for COVID-19. In his stead, Mason Garcia completed 10-of-20 passes for 104 yards, adding 15 carries for 63 yards rushing and his only touchdown of the game. In Ahlers' last game action — which came in the win at USF — he threw for an efficient 222 yards and three touchdowns on a 17-for-26 effort.
Running back Rahjai Harris has surpassed 100 rushing yards in each of the last two games, rushing for 172 yards and a touchdown against Navy after amassing 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns against USF. He and Garcia were the Pirates' main contributors on the ground against Navy, with freshman Keaton Mitchell notching just five carries after getting 15 against the Bulls. Wide receiver Tyler Snead was Garcia's leading receiver against Navy, catching four passes for a team-high 39 yards.
Tulsa continued its strong defensive play in the win over USF by limiting the Bulls to just one touchdown and a pair of field goals. The Golden Hurricane maintain a top-20 scoring defense at just 18.3 points allowed per game, and their 10.7 tackles for a loss per game lead the American and is the fifth-best rate in the FBS. Linebacker Zaven Collins has been a key part of that attack, with three sacks and eight TFLs in three games.
When Tulsa Has the Ball
Tulsa found some momentum offensively against USF, scoring a season-high 42 points in the win. Quarterback Zach Smith was efficient rather than electric, completing 16-of-24 passes for 233 yards with a touchdown and interception. He has five touchdowns through three games in 2020 — hardly surprising given that last season he only posted two multi-touchdown games — but his continued steady play is definitely a plus for the Golden Hurricane.
Tulsa had rushed for 231 yards combined in its first two games of the season, but the Golden Hurricane nearly matched that figure with 227 yards and four touchdowns on the ground against USF. Deneric Prince led the way with 15 carries for 109 yards and two touchdowns, with Corey Taylor II right behind him with 67 yards and the other two touchdowns on 12 carries. On the receiving side, Sam Crawford Jr. and Keylon Stokes tied for the team lead with four catches apiece, with Crawford Jr. holding the 82-66 edge in yardage while JuanCarlos Santana hauled in Smith's lone touchdown pass.
East Carolina allowed 100 total points in its first two games of 2020 but has found a way to right the ship somewhat in limiting USF and Navy to 24 and 27 points, respectively. The Pirates enter the week allowing over 458.3 yards per game, including 212.8 rushing yards. Last week, Navy rushed for 288 yards — over 100 yards more than the Midshipmen's season rushing average — and scored all four touchdowns on the ground.
East Carolina hung with Navy but ultimately couldn't come all the way back. Tulsa should be able to take advantage of the Pirates' defensive struggles while the Golden Hurricane leverage the strength of their defense in Ahlers' return to game action.
Prediction: Tulsa 37, East Carolina 20
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
(Top photo courtesy of @TulsaFootball)