Tulsa Golden Hurricane
If you like offense, you’ll probably want to tune in to this year’s Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl. Neither the WAC nor Conference USA is considered a power league, but there’s no denying the fact that both Hawai’i and Tulsa can put up points quickly and often. These are the 9th and 10th-ranked scoring offenses, respectively– all signs point to a shootout at Aloha Stadium.
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Tulsa is the more balanced of the 2, coming into this matchup with the nation’s 15th best rushing attack (219 yards/ game) and 16th best passing game (284). Combined, that averages out to better than 500 yards of offense. Of course, Hawai’i is right there too with 496 yards per contest, thanks to the nation’s top passing yardage producer Bryant Moniz.
The flip side is a pair of defenses that had a rough time stopping opponents. Hawai’i yielded 344 yards and more than 22 points per game this season, and if that sounds bad, consider that Tulsa coughed up 442 and 30. Some of the struggles can be attributed to the offenses; because these teams score quickly, their defenses are on the field a lot. But it is also the case that these Ds simply aren’t very good.
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What that means for the Hawai’i Bowl is that the teams must match one another point for point if each wants to stay involved. It also means that offensive mistakes, especially turnovers, will be magnified.
- Hawai’i: It would be easy enough to throw Moniz in here. As the nation’s most prolific passer, he’ll certainly be critical to the Warriors’ success. But the key to this game will be defense. Both of these offenses can score, and whichever stop unit does a better job of living up to its name will probably be the victor. Therefore, Hawai’i key player is defensive back Mana Silva. Silva finished with 8 interceptions on the year, tied for the national lead with Virginia Tech’s Jayron Hosley. He is a disruptive force in the secondary that helped Hawai’i to a #2 ranking in turnover margin (+1.23). If he can prey on Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne, then the Warriors should come out on top.
- Tulsa: Kinne is #4 in the country in total offense, and has a Top 30 passer rating. But his arm isn’t what makes him the key to Tulsa’s chances. G.J. Kinne also happens to be the team’s leading rusher with 46 yards per game. The Golden Hurricane rely heavily on a committee approach in the backfield– although there’s no feature back, 9 different players finished with triple-digit rushing totals on the season. But regardless of who gets the rock, it all starts with Kinne. Tulsa needs to keep Moniz off the field, and that means combining its quick-strike ability with sustained drives. If Kinne can’t control the ball and the clock, it could be a long day for the Hurricane.
TALE OF THE TAPE
It will be interesting to watch Tulsa’s pass rush and what it can do against Moniz. If the Hurricane give him time in the pocket, he’s going to pick apart their 119th-ranked pass defense– Tulsa can’t stop Hawai’i if Moniz is in rhythm. The defensive front 7 have to harrass Moniz and force him into mistakes, and if they’re able to do so then this high-octane matchup should be close throughout.
The “Home” Crowd: Sure, Hawai’i is technically the visitor here. But the Warriors are on their own turf, in their home stadium, playing for what will surely be a partisan crowd. There’s no doubt that Tulsa will feel as though this is a road game. The noise will be working in Hawai’i's favor, and in a game where scoring will matter (a lot), struggling to get plays called properly could play a significant role in the outcome.
Neither of these teams played a particularly difficult schedule. And both were dismantled by the better programs they played. Hawai’i was scorched by Boise State, and Oklahoma State took Tulsa behind the woodshed. But the Warriors did play USC tough, and had solid wins over Fresno State, Army, and– most notably– Nevada. Hawai’i has the better passer and the home field advantage. Barring turnovers, Moniz and company should be able to handle themselves in Honolulu.
PREDICTION: Hawai’i 45, Tulsa 37