When the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (1-5, 0-3 in the AAC) arrive in Fayetteville on Saturday for a regional non-conference showdown against the Arkansas Razorbacks (1-6, 0-4 SEC), some unwanted history will be made for the defeated. Regardless of the fan favorite, both squads enter the game in dire need of a win making for what could be a slugfest for the motivated.
Through four seasons on the Tulsa sidelines, head coach Phillip Montgomery has had to walk back into the locker room to pick his team up after his fair share of disappointing losses, and that is exactly how the Golden Hurricane prepare for Arkansas. Seeking a rare win over a ranked opponent, Tulsa held a 24-10 lead going into the fourth quarter of last week’s game against No. 23 South Florida only to lose 25-24 in dramatic fashion. The Golden Hurricane were a dominating force on the ground, running for 220 yards behind Shamari Brooks’ 28-carry 100-yard and two-touchdown game.
Life is not much sunnier in the Land of the Hogs. Seeing a great opportunity to pick up a first SEC victory for head coach Chad Morris, Arkansas let one slip away against Ole Miss on Saturday. Up 33-24, Arkansas allowed 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter before backup quarterback Cole Kelley threw a game-ending interception. The 37-33 loss dropped the Hogs into the SEC West cellar.
With both teams resting on one victory this season, a “pick-me up” win is sorely needed for the players, coaches and fan bases for both squads on Saturday.
Tulsa at Arkansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 20, at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Arkansas -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Arkansas QB play
The Razorbacks offense was looking good against statistically the worst SEC defense on Saturday as starting quarterback Ty Storey hit 12-of-16 passes for 122 yards with one touchdown. Turning the pocket passer into a dual-threat, Storey also ran for 73 yards off nine attempts before leaving the game with concussion symptoms. Storey is considered a game-time decision, possibly placing the offense in Cole Kelley’s hands. Kelley is the definition of college football’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from one play to the next, looking like an All-SEC performer at times and a lost soul at others. Kelley hit 2-of-5 passes last week against Ole Miss with one touchdown but closed out any hopes of an Arkansas comeback with a game-ending pick. On paper, Tulsa has been tough against the pass, allowing only 184 yards per game this season playing the likes of Texas, Arkansas State, Temple and Houston.
2. Golden Hurricane run defense
The secondary of the Golden Hurricane may not have been exposed too badly this season because the front seven is having trouble stopping the run. Tulsa is one of the worst teams in the nation against the run, allowing 215 yards per game on average, ranked 114th in the FBS out of 129 teams. As luck would have it for Tulsa, Arkansas' three top rushers from last week’s game — Ty Storey and running backs Rakeem Boyd and Devwah Whaley — are battling injuries. Boyd is expected to play with a banged-up back, but Whaley (ankle) is reportedly out until November. If Boyd is limited, sophomore Chase Hayden becomes the go-to guy. Hayden has appeared in all seven games this season rushing for 155 yards on 41 totes without a rushing score. Razorback Nation may see touches given to Maleek Williams and TJ Hammonds on Saturday.
3. Which team really wants it?
Both squads are coming off tough losses. The Hogs have an 18-game winning streak against Tulsa dating back to 1976. Morris can ill afford to lose yet another non-conference game Arkansas is expected to win plus end a decades-long winning streak against the Golden Hurricane.
Montgomery won 16 games in his first two seasons, twice heading to bowl games with Bill Blankenship’s players. Last season the Golden Hurricane mustered two wins. Even if another two-win season is to be had, best that one of them is against an SEC team.
Even in the “dark” years in Fayetteville, Arkansas has found a way to beat Tulsa, but the Hogs are trending towards a historic low point in program history. The last two-win season was in 1952 under Otis Douglas. If they cannot claim a win against Tulsa, they could be heading for their first one-win season since 1932 with Fred Thomsen running the squad.
Prediction: Arkansas 31, Tulsa 21
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.