USF hosts Tulsa in search of first conference win in 2020
The Tulsa Golden Hurricane will look to pick up their second straight win in Florida when they head to Tampa to square off with the USF Bulls. Both teams have had their schedules rearranged by postponements stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. USF had its Sept. 26 game against FAU postponed, while Tulsa's matchup with Arkansas State (also on Sept. 26) and last week's American Athletic Conference (AAC) date with No. 8 Cincinnati were impacted.
When Tulsa (1-1, 1-0 AAC) takes the field on Friday, the Golden Hurricane will be 20 days removed from their last game action, when they took down No. 11 UCF 34-26 in Orlando. USF's momentum is firmly in the opposite direction, as the Bulls (1-4, 0-3) have lost four in a row after a season-opening win against The Citadel, with the most recent loss coming 39-37 at the hands of Temple.
Saturday's game might just be the spark that the Bulls need, however, since they carry a 3-0 all-time record against Tulsa into this weekend. All three games have been decided by eight or fewer points, as the Golden Hurricane have hung in but haven't yet broken through against the Bulls. These two teams last met in Tulsa in 2018, when USF scored 15 unanswered fourth-quarter points — capped off by a last-second field goal — to escape with a 25-24 win.
Tulsa at USF
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Tulsa -10
When Tulsa Has the Ball
Tulsa has had a hard time finding the end zone in its two games, scoring just 20.5 points per game, which currently ranks as the 10th-lowest per-game average in the FBS. Quarterback Zach Smith rebounded from a 165-yard, one-touchdown output in the opener at Oklahoma State with 273 yards passing and three touchdowns against UCF. Smith only had two games in 2019 with more than two touchdowns, so his three against UCF — to three different receivers — is a welcome sign for the Golden Hurricane offense.
Tulsa will likely continue to rely on Smith's arm to guide the offense, as the Golden Hurricane's two leading rushers — Deneric Prince and T.K. Wilkerson — have combined for just 231 rushing yards thus far, with Wilkerson leading the way against UCF with 86 yards and a touchdown. On the receiving side, Keylon Stokes led a group of eight different pass-catchers for the Golden Hurricane with six receptions for 95 yards and one of Smith's three touchdowns, with Sam Crawford Jr. and Josh Johnson each hauling in a touchdown as well.
USF, for its part, has struggled to keep opponents off the scoreboard this season; they've yet to hold any team under 28 points after the 27-6 win against The Citadel. The Bulls have allowed 40.8 points per game in their four losses, losing by nearly 24 points per game in that stretch. One bright spot has been the play of defensive back Mekhi LaPointe, who has already tallied a pair of interceptions in 2020 and has kept the Bulls allowing just 173.6 yards per game through the air, the 12th-best mark in the FBS.
When USF Has the Ball
Like Tulsa, USF has had plenty of difficulties scoring this season, with just 76 total points through five games and nearly half coming last week alone in the loss at Temple. In his first full season as a starter, quarterback Jordan McCloud has been held to just 150 yards passing per game this season. Against the Owls, he finished with 182 yards passing and three touchdowns for his first multi-touchdown game since Oct. 26 of last season in a win at East Carolina.
USF's rushing offense has struggled to find much of a rhythm, as the Bulls rushed for 143 yards against Temple and, in doing so, eclipsed 100 yards on the ground for the first time since Week 2 against Notre Dame. And when the Bulls have gone to the air, McCloud has certainly spread the ball around: none of USF's top three pass-catchers — DeVontres Dukes, Latrell Williams, and Omarion Dollison — even sit among the top 100 in the FBS in receiving. Dollison led the way last week with 64 yards but was held out of the end zone, while Johnny Ford, Dukes, and Randall St. Felix each caught one of McCloud's touchdowns.
Tulsa enters the week in the top 20 and top 30 nationally, respectively, in total defense and scoring defense with 21.0 points allowed per game and 369.5 total yards allowed per game. The Golden Hurricane have also shown an ability to cause havoc in the backfield, as linebacker Zaven Collins has notched three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in just two games, adding an interception and a safety against UCF.
Both teams have struggled to gather momentum offensively in 2020, and the COVID-driven postponements certainly haven't helped matters. The Bulls are hoping this can be the week where they snap the skid and find a way to win, while Tulsa aims to get its first win in four chances against USF.
Prediction: USF 31, Tulsa 26
— 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.
(Photo courtesy of gousfbulls.com)