In their long-belated 2020 home opener, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane will welcome American Athletic Conference counterpart East Carolina on Friday night.
After losing its sole nonconference game to Oklahoma State on Sept. 19, Tulsa (2-1, 2-0 AAC) has posted back-to-back wins in league play. Most recently, the Golden Hurricane cruised to a 42-13 rout of South Florida on Oct. 23, their third road game to open the pandemic-shortened season.
A scheduled home game against Cincinnati on Oct. 17 was postponed until Dec. 5 due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the Bearcats.
The Golden Hurricane own consecutive wins against East Carolina, in 2016 and 2019.
A victory on Friday would match Tulsa's longest-ever streak in the series. The current run ended a six-game East Carolina win streak that spanned both programs' membership in Conference USA and entrance into the AAC, including the Pirates' win over the Golden Hurricane in the 2008 C-USA championship game.
Dating to its C-USA days, Tulsa has staked its identity to high-scoring offenses. Its initial success in 2020, however, is owed more to great defensive play.
The Golden Hurricane are allowing 18.3 points per game, good for No. 15 in the nation. In their only loss, they held typically explosive Oklahoma State to just 16 points.
Tulsa is the only defense to hold Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard below 100 yards this season.
"Very impressive defensive performance there," East Carolina coach Mike Houston said Monday of Tulsa's showing at Oklahoma State. "We've got to do a great job with ball security."
The Pirates (1-3, 1-2) are coming off a 27-23 loss to visiting Navy on Oct. 17. They trailed by two touchdowns entering the fourth quarter but could not complete the comeback.
Houston's expressed emphasis on ball security comes just days after the Pirates fumbled four times against Navy, two of which were lost.
East Carolina has committed nine turnovers through its first four games and ranks tied for 73rd in FBS teams with a minus-2 turnover margin on the campaign.
In contrast, Tulsa ranks among the country's best in turnover margin at plus-3. Linebacker Zaven Collins -- a 2019 All-AAC honoree -- is off to an outstanding start with two interceptions, a forced fumble, 18 solo tackles, four assisted tackles, three sacks and a safety.
Collins made his second pick of the season in the Friday romp at South Florida, and he returned it 38 yards for a touchdown. The Golden Hurricane forced three turnovers and limited the Bulls' offense to 4.4 yards per play, even though Tulsa was without four defensive starters.
"We knew things like this could happen throughout the season," Montgomery said. "We told our guys, 'You've got to prepare yourself each and every week because you never know when that opportunity's going to come, and when you have it, seize it and make the most of it.'"
The abundance of missing starters, a three-week layoff after the marquee matchup with Cincinnati was postponed, and Tulsa being nearly two months into the season before playing its first home game are all part of the challenges amid the pandemic.
East Carolina endured a pause in activities in August before a series of postponements pushed its season opener to Sept. 26.
Houston told reporters days prior to the Navy game that the Pirates were "dealing with some issues" related to COVID-19 testing. Those problems most significantly impacted the offense, with running backs Darius Pinnix Jr. and Demetrius Mauney and starting quarterback Holton Ahlers all out due to protocols.
As a result, freshman quarterback Mason Garcia was thrown into his first career start. He completed 10 of 20 passes for 104 yards.
Ahlers returned to practice this week. He has thrown for 673 yards and six touchdowns on the season with four interceptions.
--Field Level Media