Bulls face significant test against ‘huge’ Tulsa defense

Coach Jeff Scott singled out Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins, who has 16 tackles with 7.5 for loss, as an “NFL draft pick.” The 6-foot-4-inch 260-pound linebacker is a cog in the Golden Hurricane’s imposing defense. TULSA ATHLETICS PHOTO

Outside of Notre Dame, Tulsa looks like it will be the best and biggest defense USF has played so far, according to coach Jeff Scott.

“Obviously, I haven’t seen everybody, we haven’t played everybody but outside of Notre Dame, this would be the best defense, for sure, that we play up to this point,” he said.

Friday, the Bulls (1-4, 0-3) will play Tulsa (1-1, 1-0) at Raymond James Stadium in USF’s fourth conference game of the season, and the Bulls’ stuttering offense will go up against one of its biggest challenges yet — an imposing and intimidating Golden Hurricane defense.

“I think on the defensive line, linebackers are a huge thing,” Scott said. “Three guys average 240 pounds and they got two corners and two safeties. I think they’re 6’1”, 6’2”, 6’3” and 6’4” and [have] really been a dominant group in the two games they played so far.”

The Golden Hurricane has only played two games this season — a 16-7 loss to now-No. 6 Oklahoma State and a 34-26 win over UCF in Orlando on Oct. 3. Tulsa was set to play No. 9 Cincinnati last week, but the game was postponed due to COVID-19.

Against UCF, Tulsa held the Knights to a field goal in the second half.

Linebacker Kendarin Ray leads the team in tackles with 18 and fellow linebackers Justin Wright and Tineal Martin have 12 each. 

Scott specifically emphasized the threat of Zaven Collins, the 6-foot-4-inch 260-pound linebacker who has 16 tackles in two games. 

“Their linebacker Zaven Collins looks like an NFL draft pick,” Scott said. “He has close to 200 career tackles and a lot of experience. He’s the guy we have to know where he is at all times.”

Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. is also preparing for the force of Tulsa’s defensive backs. 

“Their corners are big and physical. They bully receivers, push them to the sideline,” he said. “Up front, they’ve dominated the first few games of the season and done a great job of playing physical and stopping around, trying to make people one-dimensional.”

Cornerback Akayleb Evans has nine tackles this season, while Allie Green IV has eight.

Given Tulsa’s physical defense, USF quarterback Jordan McCloud will need to get the ball off quickly and accurately.

Luckily for USF, short and quick passes are McCloud’s specialty. 

“I think Jordan is really good at distributing the ball and those short to intermediate passes,” Weis Jr. said. “That’s one of his strengths.”

Last week, McCloud was named starting quarterback for the remainder of the season. He has completed 72 of 112 passes for 749 yards and four touchdowns. 

Along with McCloud, the Bulls’ receivers will have to play stronger mentally and physically in order to repel Tulsa’s backs. 

Scott mentioned DeVontres Dukes’ 28-yard touchdown catch against Temple last week and how it should serve as the model for the rest of the team’s receivers.

“From the receiver’s perspective, it’s really a challenge to play physical,” Scott said. “You have to play every play, you can’t take any points off. These guys are going to play hard. If you take a play off, they’re going to embarrass you and push you to the sidelines.

“It’s really that mentality of going out there and playing physical.” 

USF is 1-4, and while that isn’t great, Scott said he was proud of his team’s performance in the 39-37 loss to Temple but is looking for a different result. 

“Really what we need right now is to play well enough to earn a victory,” he said. “That’s really the most valuable thing. It’s a good lesson for me to know just how hard it is to win.”

The Bulls and the Golden Hurricane kick off Friday at Raymond James Stadium at 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.