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Watching Film: Tulsa

Can the Bulls take advantage of a national TV audience under the Friday night lights?

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Central Florida Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

After a tough road loss, USF (1-4, 0-3 AAC) returns home under the bright lights to take on the surprising Tulsa Golden Hurricane (1-1. 1-0 AAC) in primetime. A national audience will have the opportunity to see just how much progress the Bulls have made this season under new head coach Jeff Scott. The Bulls haven’t won on ESPN since they beat Tulsa 25-24 in 2018 (0-4).

Tulsa comes into Friday night’s game looking to complete a Sunshine State sweep. The Golden Hurricanes rolled into Oviedo and wreaked havoc in Spectrum Stadium, as any stiff wind would, defeating the Golden Knights 34-26. Tulsa has an experienced offense and a defense that has played awesome through two games. You are reading that correctly; Tulsa has only played twice this season. They have had two games canceled/postponed and haven’t played since October 3rd. It’s hard to say exactly what you’re going to get on Friday night, but let’s see if the numbers can provide some context.

The Numbers

Despite a couple of pretty impressive performances, Tulsa doesn’t have overwhelming stats. They are currently a below average offense by most metrics. Their yards per play (YPP) numbers, while better than USF, are not that great. To be fair, they have played one great defense (Oklahoma State), but have also played a lousy one (Central Florida). In addition to the poor YPP numbers, the Golden Hurricane are terrible on third downs. Thus far this season, they rank 72nd out of 77 teams. Tulsa has some great players at the offensive skill positions, but the numbers don’t reflect this. They are still a bit of an enigma offensively.

While the offense is still figuring some things out, the defense has been lights out. Tulsa is 13th nationally in defensive YPP. They made life miserable for a talented Oklahoma State team and held an explosive UCF offense nearly two yards per play under their season average. They aren’t overwhelming on third down, but they are upper echelon in many defensive metrics.

The two teams have a similar statistical profile in many spots . Tulsa is slightly better on both sides of the ball with regards to explosive plays, and turnover margin. USF has the team talent edge according to the 247 Team Talent Composite. Tulsa may not have a ton of highly rated recruits, but they do have some great players on both sides of the ball. Let’s take a look at how they put that talent to use.

Tulsa Offense

Tulsa is led on offense by quarterback Zach Smith (11). Smith is a big, strong armed Baylor transfer who can make all the throws. He also has a great receiver corps to spread the ball around to led by Keylon Stokes (2). They have connected for a bunch of explosive throws this season, but the run game has been lacking thanks in part to star RB Shamari Brooks tearing his ACL before the season. Let’s take a closer look at their offensive schemes.

Tulsa has shown the ability to throw the ball. They have struggled to run the ball and convert third downs. The USF defense has struggled to stop the run and get off the field on third downs. One of these units is the others antidote. Whoever is able to turn their weakness into a strength will have a great chance to win Friday night.

Tulsa Defense

The Tulsa defense was extremely impressive on film. They have size, length, and athleticism. Tulsa runs a lot of odd front and will mix up coverages. They are led by do everything linebacker Zaven Collins (23) and have talented, aggressive players at all three levels. Let’s see what has made their defense so successful this season.

Tulsa is a physical, aggressive defense that will play in your face. They seem to be a poor matchup for the USF offense. If the Bulls are able to move the ball and score points this week, you have to feel really good about the progress they are making.


The Tulsa defense appears to be the best unit in the game. The USF offense is probably the worst. However, Tulsa has only played twice. It’s hard to say exactly what they are. They got Oklahoma State with a backup quarterback. Did they also catch UCF on an off night? Will they be able to maintain their physicality on defense without drawing more penalties? After just two games it’s hard to know.

USF is also hard to figure out. The offense has improved the last couple weeks, but was that real improvement or playing poor defenses? Is the defenses recent poor performance due to lack of depth or deeper issues?

I don’t think we really know yet. I can envision a scenario where USF gets shut down on offense and Tulsa is able to pull away for an easy W. I can also see a game that comes down to the wire. Regardless of the outcome of the game, we will learn a lot about both teams Friday night.