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A closer look at Tulsa, which faces USF on Friday

The Golden Hurricane bring an imposing defense and veteran offense to Raymond James Stadium.
UCF running back Johnny Richardson (25) is tackled by Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins (23) and cornerback Akayleb Evans, left, after during the second half of the Golden Hurricane's 34-26 victory in Orlando on Oct. 3.
UCF running back Johnny Richardson (25) is tackled by Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins (23) and cornerback Akayleb Evans, left, after during the second half of the Golden Hurricane's 34-26 victory in Orlando on Oct. 3. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
Published Oct. 20, 2020

A look at Tulsa, which plays USF on Friday at Raymond James Stadium:

Nickname: Golden Hurricane

Record: 1-1 (1-0 American Athletic Conference)

Opponents to date: lost at then-No. 11 Oklahoma State, 16-7; won at then-No. 11 UCF, 34-26

Coach: Philip Montgomery (sixth season, 26-38)

The offensive breakdown: The Golden Hurricane haven’t played since their upset of penalty-prone UCF on Oct. 3. So far, four of their games have been postponed or canceled, including this past weekend’s homecoming contest against Cincinnati (due to COVID-19 issues in the Bearcats program). While buoyed greatly by UCF’s self-infliction (18 penalties), the Hurricane netted 165 rushing yards against the Knights and got a solid performance from 6-foot-3 senior Zach Smith (17-for-29, 273 yards, three TDs, one INT). A Baylor transfer with an NFL-caliber arm, Smith is the program’s first starting quarterback to return for a second year since 2016. Also back are veteran receivers Keylon Stokes (10 receptions, 150 yards) and Sam Crawford (eight catches, 97 yards), who teamed for more than 1,800 receiving yards in 2019. Top returning rusher Shamari Brooks tore his ACL last month, but the Hurricane did fine at UCF with a committee of backs that included 230-pound sophomore T.K. Wilkerson. Tulsa surrendered 3.25 sacks a game last season (which ranked 121st nationally) and have allowed three in the first two games but is facing a team Friday that has totaled only three sacks in five contests.

The defensive breakdown: Despite losing seven of its top 10 tacklers from last season, this imposing unit has mostly sparkled against two quality opponents. Tulsa’s projected starting nose guard in its 3-3-5 base alignment (senior Tyarise Stevenson) is 351 pounds, and its projected starting defensive end (senior Cullen Wick) is 6-4, 260. Additionally, three of its top four cornerbacks are 6-2 or 6-3. Tulsa leads the nation in per-game tackles for lost yardage (12.0) and is allowing the third-fewest yards per play (4.8) in the American Athletic Conference. It also has more than twice as many sacks (seven) in two games as USF has totaled (three) in five. Against Oklahoma State, the Golden Hurricane held onetime Heisman candidate Chuba Hubbard to 35 yards on 12 first-half carries, and a 3.9-yard average (27 carries, 105 yards) for the day. Meantime, their pass-efficiency defense through two games (115.2) ranks second in the league. The most disruptive force to date has been 6-4, 260-pound weakside linebacker Zaven Collins (16 tackles, three sacks, one INT, two pass breakups). “He looks like a top NFL draft pick,” USF coach Jeff Scott said.

Related: USF's Jeff Scott takes heat for 2-point play call, preceding timeout

Odds & ends: Tulsa practiced only seven of its 17 scheduled days during preseason camp, due in part to multiple positive COVID-19 tests on Aug. 12. ... Tulsa is 0-3 all-time against USF, but the three defeats have been by a combined 16 points. ... The Golden Hurricane have totaled only two first-quarter points in two games. ... Tulsa has the smallest undergraduate enrollment (3,269) in Division I-A; USF’s exceeds 50,000.

Audible: “Obviously I haven’t seen everybody (in the league)... but outside of Notre Dame, this will be the best defense for sure that we’ve played up to this point.” — Scott