No. 16 Ole Miss (3-0) looks to stay perfect when it hosts Tulsa (2-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Daily Journal caught up with John Tranchina of the Tulsa World to see what he considers the keys to the Ole Miss-Tulsa matchup.
The Tulsa passing attack has been dynamic thus far, led by Davis Brin, who has 11 touchdowns this year after 18 all of last year. What has been the biggest change for Brin, his receivers and the offense this season?
Tranchina: Brin has been excellent. He seems to be more measured in his actions, being more calm and poised with the ball under pressure, not just getting rid of it but making sure he makes the right reads and finding an open receiver. The other big thing has been an outstanding receiving corps. Keylon Stokes, who led the team in receiving every year from 2018-20, missed most of last year due to injury, so he has been back and playing great. There’s also another elite receiver in JuanCarlos Santana, who is especially adept at pulling in the long ball (as he did last game, averaging like 45 yards per catch). Having both of those guys to throw to has been huge, and even the third and fourth options, Malachai Jones and Isaiah Epps, have also been good, and one of them continues to step up when the team needs a play. So it’s Brin and the receivers together — all are better.
I believe WR Keylon Stokes is in his sixth year of CFB, and he’s off to the best start of his career. Is he the ace receiver for this offense, and what does he do well?
Tranchina: Stokes is playing great too, and he has been able to come up with a catch on some really well-defended plays, where it looks like he is too covered but somehow pulls it down. He has been outstanding and again, always seems to make the play when they need it. He is definitely the ace receiver, a team captain and leader, and has been a key part of their success so far.
The defense has had its trouble stopping some opponents this season, giving up about 30 points per game. What have been the biggest issues? And who are the key players to watch for defensively?
Tranchina: In the first two games, the defense didn’t register a single sack and allowed both opposing quarterbacks to have really good games against them. That seemed to get corrected a bit in the last game against a lesser opponent, but I think lack of pressure from the D-line is probably their biggest issue. Their secondary is pretty good, but when there’s little pressure, someone’s going to find a way to get open… Defending against the run has been pretty good (until the backups went in during the last game — the numbers against Jacksonville State are a bit inflated because of that). Linebackers Justin Wright and Jon-Michael Terry and nickel safety Bryson Powers are the players to watch — all team captains.
What is the mentality of this team under Philip Montgomery? Does this feel like a big season for him, given how the team had to rally late in the 2021 season to make a bowl game?
Tranchina: I don’t think there’s any issue with Montgomery as far as his job security. If they didn’t rally late last season and ended up 4-8 or something, then maybe things would have been a bit tense coming into this year, but this is his team, all the players have bought in and he’s pretty beloved here amongst the players. But right now, no issues …
If Tulsa is going to pull off the upset at Ole Miss, _____ has to happen.
Tranchina: Brin and the receivers continue their outstanding play, the defense pulls off multiple turnovers and maybe even get a special teams touchdown for good measure. I think it’s a longshot, but it can happen if all those things go right and some things go wrong for Ole Miss. And it would probably be a high-scoring game, like 44-41 or something crazy like that, with a last-minute winning drive.
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