When it comes to running the ball, Tulsa is no slouch.
Last season, the Golden Hurricane averaged just more than 200 yards a game and had two backs that ranked in the top 12 in the American Conference in rushing yards per game.
So it’s not a real surprise Tulsa believes it can again have some success running the ball as it prepares to open the season Aug. 30 against No. 18 Michigan State at Spartan Stadium.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” junior Corey Taylor said when asked if the numbers from last season can be equaled. “I think if you look at the stats from last year, we were pretty close to (200 yards a game and 5 yards per carry). I believe over this offseason we’ve definitely developed and just worked on our craft a ton. And with the offensive line that we have, those are great guys that we have blocking for us up front, So, I think 100 (yards) apiece a game and 5 a carry at least is pretty reasonable.”
The 100 a game of course means 100 yards for himself as well as 100 for junior Shamari Brooks. Last season, Brooks ran for 967 yards on 229 carries, an average of 87.9 yards a game. Taylor was close behind, gaining 846 yards on 178 carries, good for 76.9 a game.
But getting it done against Michigan State? That’s a whole new ballgame.
After all, the Spartans were the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation last season, allowing just 77.9 yards a game while only three backs gained more than 100 yards in a game against the Spartans.
Tulsa coach Phillip Montgomery understands what his team is up against.
“Up front they are technically very, very sound,” Montgomery said of Michigan State. “They don't give you anything. You're going to have to earn every yard, as I've seen a ton of tape against them at this point. They do an unbelievable job against the run. They don't stay blocked. You can see a guy in great position, got his hands and everything in the right spot, body is in the right spot, and then all of a sudden you see a (defender) just pop away from it and make the tackle.
“So got to do a good job of sustaining blocks, we've got to do a good job as running backs working our way in and out of those things. Those things are not going to be open. If you see daylight, you'd better hit it because it's going to close in a hurry.”
While running the ball might be tough for the Golden Hurricane despite both Taylor and Brooks appearing on the preseason Doak Walker Award watch list, throwing the ball might not be any easier.
Tulsa has used preseason camp to help sort out the quarterback battle between junior Zach Smith and sophomore Seth Boomer, but Montgomery has yet to decide.
“I think we’re close in figuring out what we want to do at that position,” Montgomery said. “I think those guys have continued to progress. I like the way they have worked and battled throughout spring ball and fall camp. You’ve seen the ebbs and flows of it every day. I think we’re getting close to being able to announce a starter and what we’re going to go with.”
Whoever is under center, the Golden Hurricane know they’ll have their work cut out to get the season off on a winning note. They’ve played big teams before and this is just the latest as they try and rebound from back-to-back poor seasons. Tulsa was 3-9 last season and 2-10 in 2017. However that was after consecutive bowl appearances in Montgomery’s first two seasons.
The opener against the Spartans could give a good indication of which direction Tulsa is headed.
“We've played a lot of teams in this same boat, and we understand this is just one game in the course of our season,” Montgomery said. “It's not going to change the course one way or another. There's a lot of games left that we've got to continue to keep grinding. If you go up there and you don't come out with a victory, it's not going to be the end-all of end-alls. If you come out with a victory, then you're coming back with a lot of good momentum, a lot of things to build on. But that one game is still not going to change the course of the rest of them that are coming up.”