Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Matt Charboneau preview the opening games of the college football season: Michigan vs. Middle Tennessee and Michigan State vs. Tulsa. The Detroit News
Michigan State vs. Tulsa
► Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
► TV/radio: FS1/WJR 760
► Records: Season opener for both teams.
► Line: MSU by 23
View from the other side
Dekota Gregory covers Tulsa football for the Tulsa World. He breaks down the Golden Hurricane for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Friday’s Michigan State-Tulsa game at Spartan Stadium. You can follow him on Twitter @dekotagregory.
► Question: Who should we expect to see as the starting quarterback?
► Gregory: I’m predicting Zach Smith to start at quarterback over Seth Boomer, who started the final eight games last season. (Smith) transferred from Baylor and started 10 games there. Along with that Power 5 experience, he also has a great arm, which is the first thing people tend to notice about him.
► Question: Can Tulsa move the ball well enough on the ground against MSU’s defense?
► Gregory: That’s honestly a good question. Although TU has two outstanding running backs, the offensive line is a big question mark with only two returning starters. And a road game against Michigan State is not an easy place to figure things out. Running backs Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor II have the ability to run the ball against anybody; they’ll just need help from that inexperienced offensive line. Although I don’t know if they’ll both get 100 rushing yards and average 5 yards a carry like Taylor mentioned, I think the two will still make some plays Friday night and find success.
► Question: Do MSU’s offensive staff changes make game-planning tough for the Tulsa defense?
► Gregory: Philip Montgomery didn’t sugarcoat this struggle. He stated during his weekly press conference that the changes have it made difficult to prepare for MSU. He said he knows there’s obviously talent on that offense to prepare for, he just doesn’t exactly know how MSU will use that talent.
►Question: How much will the change at defensive coordinator benefit the Golden Hurricane?
► Gregory: Former defensive coordinator Bill Young was Joseph Gillespie’s mentor, meaning they have the same foundation. However, being a younger guy, Gillespie has said that you can expect a little bit more of a flashy defense from him. A little bit more might be needed, too, because although TU has plenty of talent on its front seven, the Hurricane struggled with getting to the quarterback last season. But the biggest benefit I’ve seen so far, considering they haven’t played yet is the morale from the defense. Gillespie is a pretty intense and exciting guy, and his defense has kind of taken on that same persona. The defensive players have mentioned throughout the preseason how much the intensity has went up on that side of the ball because of Gillespie.
► Question: What must Tulsa do to pull off the upset?
► Gregory: An upset will depend on that inexperienced offensive line. It’s hard to say they’ll be bad, because most of these guys are unknown, so who knows, maybe they’ll come out and be great. However, like I said before, that’s a very tough environment to figure things out in. But if the offensive line can hold its own, then TU can keep it close with its running game. If the game is close, Zach Smith’s big arm and big-play ability could be the spark to help TU get over the edge.
Players to watch
► Shamari Brooks, RB: The first of Tulsa’s 1-2 punch in the backfield, the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Brooks packs a wallop. He led the Golden Hurricane with 967 rushing yards last season while scoring seven touchdowns and had a season-high 151 yards on 17 carries against UConn. He’s run for 100 yards or more in a game eight times, including four times in 2018. On the preseason watch list for the Doak Walker Award, given to the top running back in the nation.
► Corey Taylor II, RB: The 5-10, 222-pounder is the second of Tulsa’s back on the Doak Walker watch list, and he’s putting up nearly identical numbers as Brooks. Taylor ran for 846 yards and 11 touchdowns last season while averaging 4.8 yards a carry. He ran for 100 or more yards in a game four times last season and has scored multiple touchdowns in a game five times, including three scores against Navy in 2018.
► Zaven Collins, LB: In 2018, Collins became the ninth player in Tulsa history to earn Freshman All-American honors after moving into the starting lineup after two games. He finished with 85 tackles, good for second on the team, while adding 9.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and one interception. Collins had double-digit tackles in five games last season, including 12 stops against Memphis.
Facts and figures
► Getting defensive: Each team is coming off an impressive season on the defensive side of the ball. Michigan State was the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation while ranking in the top 10 in total defense and scoring defense. Tulsa was nearly as stout in Conference USA and finished the season No. 8 in the country in pass defense, allowing 174.6 yards a game, while it was 10th in fourth-down conversion defense.
► Scoring points: While the win-loss record has fluctuated, Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery has consistently had good offensive production. In his 50 games, the Golden Hurricane have scored 40 or more points 21 times and posted a 17-4 in those games. They have also gained more than 500 yards of total offense 19 times and have gone over the 600-yard mark eight times. The Hurricane have also produced 12 300-yard rushing games.
► First meeting: Tulsa, the smallest school by enrollment in the FBS, is playing Michigan State for the first time. The Golden Hurricane is 1-7 all-time against teams from the Big Ten and is playing its first team from the conference since it took on Ohio State in 2016. Michigan State is the fifth different Big Ten team Tulsa has played with its only victory coming against Iowa in 1996.