Behind enemy lines: goes one-on-one with Tulsa World writer Kelly Hines
Tulsa beat writer breaks down differences between 2019, 2020 TU teams, offers prediction
Posted on 11/12/2020 by
Kelly Hines covers the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane for the Tulsa World. SMU faces Tulsa at 6 p.m. Saturday in a matchup of teams hoping to earn a berth in the American Athletic Conference Championship game. Hines offered her thoughts on Saturday’s game in an exclusive Q&A from the Tulsa perspective. Tulsa has had several games postponed because of COVID-19 issues. How do you think those schedule interruptions have affected the Golden Hurricane in its rhythm, continuity and preparation for Saturday’s game against SMU, and other games remaining on the schedule?

Kelly Hines: I think it's definitely affected rhythm and that's been seen in several games in which Tulsa has gotten off to a slow start or had an uneven performance. Fortunately for the Hurricane, the team has been able to practice because the COVID-19 problems were involving the opponent. So the preparation has been fine, but the lack of experience is more of an issue.

Kelly Hines said one of the major differences between the 2019 Tulsa team and the 2020 version SMU will face Saturday is the improved maturity and decision making of TU quarterback Zach Smith (photo by The Golden Hurricane and Mustangs played a memorable game last year at Ford Stadium that went to triple-overtime before it was decided. What are the most significant differences between last year’s Tulsa team and the one that will host SMU Saturday evening?

Kelly Hines: Certainly the defense has some different faces in key roles, but probably the most notable development has been in the play of quarterback Zach Smith, who threw three interceptions in that game. I don't foresee him having that type of outing against anyone in 2020. He's progressed well and enabling him to make good decisions has been the play of the offensive line, which is significantly improved. Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said Tuesday that his team was able to get past last year’s game right away and move on, that there is no hangover that has added to the players’ eagerness for another chance at the Mustangs. From your conversation with players, was that diplomatic coachspeak, or do you get a sense that the players have had this one circled on their calendars?

Kelly Hines: I kind of think that was so long ago and so much has happened since then that it's not a factor. Tulsa has been through six schedule disruptions this season and something that occurred a year ago feels like a lifetime ago, not to mention much of the personnel is different. Every team wants to win each time it plays, and the winner of this game gets a step closer to a potential build. But considering the similarities between the schools — each has a smaller enrollment and similar academic standards, and the schools often recruit many of the same players — how much does Tulsa view this as a rivalry game with significance that extends beyond the American Athletic Conference standings?

Kelly Hines: I think this is as much of a rivalry game as Tulsa has in the American, for the reasons you mentioned. The Hurricane has 60-plus players from Texas and most of its coaches also are from there, so there is a lot of familiarity with players on SMU's roster and that just adds to it. Tulsa has played just four games so far, but if the season ended today, who are Tulsa’s MVPs, and why?

Kelly Hines: Defensively, the MVP is undoubtedly linebacker Zaven Collins, who has become an NFL prospect as a fourth-year junior despite limited game action. He didn't play a half of the opener because of cramps and missed about a half against East Carolina because of a toe injury, but he's been spectacular when he's been on the field.

Offensively, several players have taken turns making big plays, including RBs TK Wilkerson and Deneric Prince and I think Zach Smith has done a good job for the most part. There just hasn't been enough time for the offense to gain momentum and get going. What do you see as the key(s) Tulsa needs to do (or prevent SMU from doing) to win Saturday?

Kelly Hines: I think the defense needs to find ways to slow down SMU. The Mustangs are very explosive and have a ton of weapons, and Tulsa doesn't have the game experience to prevail in a shootout. But the Hurricane's secondary is pretty darn good and certainly has the potential to limit excellent offenses. What do you see as the key(s) SMU needs to do (or prevent Tulsa from doing) to win Saturday?

Kelly Hines: Put up a ton of points and rely on its defense to prevent Tulsa from establishing its run game, which can be incredibly productive with a variety of different running backs. Prediction ... and why?

Kelly Hines: I think these teams are among the best in the American and fairly evenly matched, but I'll give the nod to the home team. How fitting would it be for Tulsa to win by a field goal after what happened last year? I'll go with a 34-31 victory for the Hurricane, expecting the defenses to deliver instead of the offenses putting up big numbers.

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