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Game Preview: Tulsa Golden Hurricane vs. Michigan State Spartans

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NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Howdy, folks. We’ve made it! College football is back. The No. 18 ranked Michigan State Spartans open the season against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (that’s right, singular Hurricane) of the American Athletic Conference, with kickoff at Spartan Stadium set for 7 p.m. on Friday.

This is the first ever meeting between the two schools, so there is not much history to draw on here, as the teams try to figure each other out. Tulsa is unsure what to expect from the new offensive scheme under Brad Salem, while MSU needs to prepare for two quarterbacks as the Golden Hurricane have not yet named the starter between Seth Boomer (started eight games in 2018) and Zach Smith (who transferred from Baylor).

Tulsa is also expected to give Michigan State some interesting looks on both sides of the ball, as the Golden Hurricane run an up-tempo offense that still relies heavily on the run game, and a 3-3-5 scheme defensively.

Without further ado, let’s begin our 2019 game previews by going in depth about the Week 1 matchup.

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2018 Record — 7-6, (5-4 Big Ten)

2018 Offense — 342.03 total yards per game, 217.23 passing yards per game, 124.8 rushing yards per game, 18.69 points per game

2018 Defense — 303.13 yards allowed per game, 225.23 passing yards allowed per game, 77.9 rushing yards allowed per game, 17.15 points allowed per game

2018 S&P+ Rankings: 30th

Tulsa:
2018 Record — 3-9 (2-6 AAC)

2018 Offense — 377.6 total yards per game, 177.1 passing yards per game, 200.5 rushing yards per game, 24.1 points per game

2018 Defense — 407.7 yards allowed per game, 174.6 passing yards allowed per game, 233.1 rushing yards allowed per game, 29.6 points allowed per game

2018 S&P+ Rankings: 107th


Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: 0-0
Michigan State all-time: 701-459-44 (.600)
Tulsa all-time record: 621-502-27 (.552)

Note: Going forward this season, this section provides information on historical head-to-head matchups between the two opponents, but, obviously, this is the first ever meeting between MSU and Tulsa.


Key Players:

Michigan State:

  • Brian Lewerke, senior, quarterback
  • Connor Heyward, junior, running back
  • Cody White, junior, wide receiver
  • Darrell Stewart Jr., junior, wide receiver
  • Kenny Willekes, senior, defensive end
  • Joe Bachie, senior, middle linebacker
  • Josiah Scott, junior, cornerback

Tulsa:

  • Quarterbacks Seth Boomer (sophomore) or Zach Smith (junior), depending on who starts
  • Corey Taylor II, junior, running back
  • Shamari Brooks, junior, running back
  • Keylon Stokes, junior, wide receiver
  • Keenen Johnson, senior, wide receiver
  • Trevis Gipson, senior, defensive end
  • Cooper Edmiston, senior, middle linebacker

*For a full list of Michigan State starters this week, check out the official Week 1 depth chart.


Key Matchups

Michigan State front seven versus Tulsa rushing attack: This is strength on strength here. Tulsa averaged 200.5 yards per game last season (35th nationally), and Corey Taylor believes that is a reasonable goal against an MSU defense that gave up a mere 77.9 rushing yards per game (best in the nation) and 2.58 yards per carry. I don’t think Taylor’s visions are coming true here, as MSU returns the majority of its starters from last year’s tenacious defense, including highly-regarded run stuffers Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk. With that said, Tulsa will certainly challenge the Spartans on the ground to open the season.

Brian Lewerke vs. Tulsa secondary: Lewerke has a lot to prove in his senior year. Coming off a forgettable and injury-riddled 2018, it’s time for him to put all of that behind him. Tulsa had an abysmal defense overall last season, however, they were quite strong against the pass — giving up less than 175 yards per game, which ranked in the top-10 nationally. But this could be because teams ran the ball so effectively on Tulsa. Lewerke lost his favorite target in Felton Davis, but still has talented receivers to throw to in Cody White, Darrell Stewart and Jalen Nailor.

Connor Heyward and MSU offensive line vs. Tulsa front seven: If the first key matchup was “strength on strength,” this may be weakness on weakness. Heyward takes over (or maybe continues) as the leader of the backfield, while others rotate in. The run game was a joke last year, averaging just 124.8 yards per game (114th in NCAA) and the offensive line struggled with health and couldn’t generate much of push all year. Now a more beefed up and experienced offensive line will look to bully a Tulsa defense that gave up a ridiculous 233.1 rushing yards per game last season. MSU will be without left tackle Cole Chewins, however.


Game Info

Time: 7:00 p.m. EST
TV Channel: FOX Sports 1 (FS1)
Location: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Weather expectations: Mostly sunny, high of 77 degrees (it’s a beautiful day for football!), sunset around 8:15 p.m.
Line: Michigan State -23

Reminder: Go Green! Go White! If you’re attending the game, please wear the proper color. Stripe the stadium: even sections and students wear green and odd sections wear white


Overview:

This is it. This is our first look at Brad Salem’s offense (although I wouldn’t expect the Spartans to show a whole lot of new concepts Week 1), a healthier Lewerke and a bigger, stronger offensive line. This is also our chance to watch a potentially historic defense take the field for the first time in 2019. I don’t pretend to know a lot about Tulsa football, but let’s not kid ourselves here, this is not a quality program. It’s a new year, but the Golden Hurricane only won three games total and two games in the AAC last season (and have only five wins in the past two seasons combined). With that said, a patented slow start in the season opener by the Spartans seems inevitable. Look for the Spartans to find their footing in the first half and then start opening things up in the second half and breaking away from Tulsa.

But, make no mistake about it, Tulsa is not going to back down. They have some good football players in Corey Taylor II, Shamari Brooks, Cooper Edmiston and Trevis Gipson. Nothing would make their season more than coming into East Lansing and pulling off a huge upset. But at the end of the day, the disparity in talent is going to be too much for the Golden Hurricane.

For more on Tulsa, check out Matt Hoeppner’s “Get to Know the Opponent” piece.

My prediction: Spartans win by at least three touchdowns.

Poll

Who wins?

This poll is closed

  • 93%
    Michigan State
    (149 votes)
  • 6%
    Tulsa
    (10 votes)
159 votes total Vote Now