We're just two days away from Tulsa's rematch with Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl, which is a perfect time to revisit round one of this matchup, ISU's 38-23 season-opening win in Ames.
This will be the second rematch the Hurricane has faced this season. After beating Central Florida in a tightly-contested matchup at Chapman Stadium, TU was forced to beat the Knights once more to earn the Conference USA championship.
This sequel will have a much different feel than the UCF game did. TU disposed of the Knights twice in three weeks, essentially facing the exact same team twice. 17 weeks have passed since the season-opener and a whole lot is sure to be different this time around.
Despite the time lapse, there is plenty from that game Tulsa can learn from. Here's a look at what the Hurricane should do again and what they should ditch in order to leave Memphis with a Liberty Bowl title.
The Golden Hurricane dominated the first quarter in Ames, leading 16-7 after one, but that's when things went downhill fast. TU looked like the walking dead throughout the second and third quarters and got in a hole too big to climb out of late. Tulsa has improved drastically since Sept. 1, learning how to win and close out tough games throughout the year. If the Hurricane can get off to another fast start, they have the maturity and experience to hold on this time around.
Despite getting gashed on many occasions, Tulsa's defense also made some high-impact plays in the season-opener. TU sacked quarterback Steele Jantz four times, recorded 10 tackles-for-loss including one for a safety and pressured Jantz into a costly first-quarter interception that led to a Tulsa touchdown. As impressive as those numbers are, the performance was hardly a flash in the pan. The Golden Hurricane defense ended up third in the FBS in sacks (48) and No. 1 in sack yards (340). A strong dose of defensive pressure might rattle ISU's new quarterback, freshman Sam Richardson, into crucial mistakes.
This is a problem that has plagued TU all season, but it was especially evident in the first matchup with the Cyclones. Tulsa turned the ball over three times, committed six penalties for 60 yards and had so many dropped passes I stopped counting at a million. Some of this can be chalked up to it being the first game of the season, but nevertheless the show must be cleaned up for Tulsa to come away a winner.
The pass-happy play calling:
Note to the TU coaching staff: RUN THE BALL. Tulsa has rushed for 3,123 yards and 37 touchdowns, both ranking in the top 10 in the country. TU is 10-0 this season when they run more times than they pass and 0-3 in games when they pass more than they run. Included in that 0-3 is the game in Ames, where Tulsa called 49 passes to just 34 runs. It would also be a good idea to let Alex Singleton have more than three touches this time, seeing as he just set every school scoring record imaginable this season. The Golden Hurricane must use their high-powered run game to set up the pass instead of using their inconsistent passing game to fall so far behind that the run game is neutralized.
Taking their eye off the Lenz:
One of the guys Tulsa struggled to contain all game long in September was receiver Josh Lenz, who put on the second-best performance of his season. Lenz hauled in eight passes for 96 yards and a touchdown, burning the Golden Hurricane defense on many crucial occasions. With leading rusher Shontrelle Johnson not available, ISU will need someone to step up and make up for the lost production, and Lenz is the leading candidate. Keeping him contained will be a key to slowing the Cyclones.
As you noticed, there's one more under the "Ditch it" category than the "Do it." That's because round one of this matchup was TU's worst performance of the season. Despite that, the Golden Hurricane still had a great chance to come away with a win.
If TU can build off its successes from the previous matchup while improving in the areas that it struggled, the Hurricane will be walking away with an 11-win season and a Liberty Bowl trophy.