Mississippi State vs. Tulsa: 5 things to know about the Bulldogs' Armed Forces Bowl opponent
It was a strange 1st season for Mike Leach at Mississippi State as the Bulldogs bookended their schedule with their best performances: a 44-34 upset victory over LSU to start the campaign; and, on Saturday, a 51-32 defeat of Missouri to end at 3-7.
Normally, that would be the end of the year, but it doesn’t need to be said that nothing is normal now. Because of rules allowing anyone to make a bowl game this season, the Bulldogs happily accepted an invitation to play No. 25 Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl on New Year’s Eve in Fort Worth, Texas. State carries some momentum with improved play in the last part of the season, while the Golden Hurricane lost a heartbreaker to No. 6 Cincinnati, 27-24, in the American Athletic Championship Game on Saturday.
Here are 5 things to know about Tulsa.
1. 2 losses came to ranked teams
Tulsa started the season with a tough 16-7 loss in Stillwater to Oklahoma State, currently No. 21 in the College Football Playoff rankings, before losing to the Bearcats, 8th in the CFP rankings. Philip Montgomery’s team was in each game until the very end, especially against Cincy as the Bearcats kicked a walk-off field goal after the Golden Hurricane tied the score with 3:41 left.
2. Tulsa has a knack for comebacks
In 3 of their wins, the Golden Hurricane have either trailed or were tied going into the 4th quarter, including a 21-point 2nd-half comeback against then-No. 19 SMU. Tulsa also trailed Tulane 14-0 going into the last 15 minutes, tying the score at 14, trading back-and-forth touchdowns twice with the Green Wave and eventually winning in double-overtime on a 96-yard interception return.
3. The Golden Hurricane have been through the ringer
A lot of teams have had games postponed or cancelled this season. Tulsa had 4 postponements and 1 cancellation. It looked as if the Golden Hurricane and Bearcats would never get on the field at the same time, as their original matchup on Oct. 17 was postponed and the makeup date on Dec. 12 was cancelled.
4. Defensive-minded team
For the longest time, Tulsa was one of those Group of 5 schools that caused headaches for opposing defenses with a high-speed, hurry-up offense. Not so much anymore, as it has been the defense that has gone to the forefront. The Golden Hurricane rank 27th in FBS in total defense, allowing 340.8 yards per game, putting up their most impressive performance against Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State offense, holding it to just 284 yards.
They are especially good against the pass, holding teams to 194.8 yards per game through the air. It will be a chess match between Leach and Tulsa defensive coordinator Joseph Gillespie.
5. They turn the ball over and cause turnovers
In the matter of 8 games, Tulsa managed to turn the ball over 16 times — including 8 interceptions by quarterback Zach Smith — while also causing 16 turnovers on defense. The main guy the Bulldogs will have to watch out for is linebacker Zaven Collins, who has recorded 4 interceptions (2 returned for touchdowns, including the game-winner against Tulane), forced 2 fumbles and recovered 1.