Tulsa surprised in the 2020 college football season with a run to the American Athletic Conference title game and a 6-3 overall record. The Golden Hurricane lost standouts in linebacker Zaven Collins and cornerbacks Allie Green IV and Akayleb Evans, but the bulk of the defense returns intact. If the defense takes a step back, the offense is poised to pick up the slack. Quarterback Davis Brin is promising, and the rest of the group returns intact from last season. Tulsa should have one of the AAC’s top backfields and offensive lines this fall.
Previewing Tulsa's Offense for 2021
When third-string quarterback Davis Brin orchestrated a fourth-quarter comeback last season vs. Tulane, he provided a glimpse of what Tulsa's offense could look like in 2021. Almost everyone else is back, and Brin appears to have the arm and poise to provide the kind of fireworks that were characteristic of head coach Philip Montgomery's early years with the Golden Hurricane.
Veteran Keylon Stokes highlights a receiving corps that boasts four players who had at least 28 catches in 2020. Sam Crawford Jr. is a sure-handed, big-bodied target, and Josh Johnson and JuanCarlos Santana are sneaky weapons capable of delivering yards after the catch.
After being sidelined last year because of a torn ACL the week of the season opener, Shamari Brooks has his eyes on the program's all-time rushing record. The running back depth remains strong behind SEC transfers Deneric Prince (Texas A&M) and Anthony Watkins (Missouri) along with up-and-comer Christian Lovick.
In addition to having all five starters back, the Hurricane offensive line is deeper than ever with the return of X'Zauvea Gadlin, who opted out of last year because of COVID-19 concerns, and the addition of Bryce Bray, a former Oklahoma State starter.
Previewing Tulsa's Defense for 2021
The primary reason for Tulsa's emergence as the runner-up in the American Athletic Conference was the performance of its defense, which ranked 19th nationally with 333 yards allowed per game. With the notable exception of consensus All-America linebacker Zaven Collins and two standouts in the secondary, most key players, including last year's seniors, will return.
The Hurricane's three-man front is anchored by versatile lineman Jaxon Player, whose 2020 stat line included five quarterback hurries, three sacks and two blocked kicks. Tyarise Stevenson, Cullen Wick and Anthony Goodlow also proved themselves reliable in the trenches.
Although Collins will be difficult to replace, Justin Wright is coming off a breakout season in the middle, and Yohance Burnett is returning from an injury that caused him to miss last year. Jon-Michael Terry, a graduate transfer who appeared in 42 games at Oklahoma, adds valuable experience at linebacker.
Allie Green IV and Akayleb Evans were set team up as a standout cornerback tandem, but both players transferred to Missouri this offseason. The departure of Green IV and Evans left a huge void in the secondary. Kendarin Ray, the team's co-leader with Wright in tackles last season, could be the top safety in program history, and Cristian Williams is back at nickel as a seventh-year senior.
Previewing Tulsa's Specialists for 2021
Following back-to-back seasons with nine missed field goals, Tulsa improved in that department behind the leg of Zack Long, who was 12-of-15 with several clutch makes and will be favored to hold on to that role. Punter Lachlan Wilson was solid as a freshman, landing 14 punts inside the 20-yard line.
On the heels of a turnaround that took them from the bottom of the AAC to the top, the Golden Hurricane will have one of the most veteran teams in program history as a result of 12 seniors opting to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility. A total of 30 players have started at least one game in their careers. Although three longtime assistants left for other jobs, Tulsa has a chance to build on last year's success behind an on-the-rise quarterback and an array of experience at every other position.
National Ranking: 63
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(Shamari Brooks photo courtesy of Tulsa Athletics)