OU vs. Tulsa Preview
Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay (24) carries against West Virginia in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Oklahoma won 16-7. Clay had career-high 170 yards rushing and finished with 22 carries, leading an Oklahoma offense that had 323 yards rushing and topping his previous best of 157 yards rushing against Iowa State in 2012. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)Photo: Image by AP
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Oklahoma has dominated its series against in-state rival Tulsa through the years, especially lately, having won 11 of the last 12 matchups against the Golden Hurricane.
But Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship knows what it's like to help take a team into a cathedral of college football and emerge a winner, which is what the Golden Hurricane did at Notre Dame in 2010. Results like that are why Blankenship believes Tulsa (1-1) has a chance to knock off No. 14 Oklahoma (2-0) when the teams meet Saturday.
Blankenship - in his third year as the Golden Hurricane's head coach after four years as an assistant - said Tulsa players have assured him they are past the intimidation factor of playing at a major-conference foe.
``That's one of the things you always deal with when you go into one of these kind of places,'' he said. ``We've been to Arkansas, we've been to Notre Dame, to Oklahoma - all those venues just since I've been here as a coach. Most of our players don't see that as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They see it as a great opportunity to play a first-class program and one that could certainly give us notoriety.''
Oklahoma's defense and run game has looked solid but the Sooners' passing game has been shaky in beating Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia. The Sooners are well aware that Tulsa - which won 11 games last season - is capable of challenging them.
``They're a pretty good team,'' Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard said. ``They're a team that's going to definitely come in here and play hard. It's a team with a lot of Oklahoma guys that are going to come back here and try and prove something. So we know that we're going to get their best shot.''
Here are five things to watch when Oklahoma takes on Tulsa:
QUARTERBACK CAROUSEL: Freshman Trevor Knight, who started as Oklahoma's quarterback the first two games, suffered a bruised knee last Saturday against West Virginia, opening the door for junior Blake Bell to start - after Bell lost a preseason competition to Knight. Also, look for another Oklahoma quarterback, Kendal Thompson, to possibly return in a reserve role after suffering a fractured foot on the first day of preseason practice. If Bell and-or Thompson play well, the Sooners could have a full-blown quarterback controversy on their hands as they prepare for a Sept. 28 game at Notre Dame.
RUN VS. PASS: Oklahoma has rushed for more than 300 yards in consecutive games for the first time since 1997 - two years before Bob Stoops became the Sooners' coach - and those strong efforts have mitigated the team's struggles in effectively passing the football. The Sooners have a deep stable of running backs in Brennan Clay, Damien Williams, Roy Finch and Millard. Will they continue to go with the proven backs or try to jump-start the passing game with Bell, who himself was a short-yardage rushing specialist the past two seasons while backing up Landry Jones?
BLOODLINES: Tulsa's best offensive player, Trey Watts, is the son of former Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts, who led the Sooners to two Orange Bowl wins before embarking on a successful political career that took him to the U.S. House of Representatives for a time. J.C. Watts said he'll be pulling for his son's team this week. Meanwhile, the Alexander family of Tulsa has a rooting interest on both sides - junior defensive end Derrick Alexander plays for the Golden Hurricane, while brother and freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander is on Oklahoma's roster.
LIGHTNING STRIKES THRICE: For the third straight year, Tulsa will play all or most of the season without its top returning receiver. In 2011, Damaris Johnson was suspended before the season began. Last year, Bryan Burnham suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener against Iowa State. Last Saturday, Keyarris Garrett suffered a broken leg in the season's second game, a 30-27 win over Colorado State. Blankenship said Tulsa has a ``next man up'' attitude about the situation and that he hopes to spread what receptions Garrett would have had among several receivers.
KICKERS AS STANDOUTS: One week after missing his first two collegiate field-goal attempts in a loss to Bowling Green, Tulsa junior Carl Salazar hit all three field goals for the Golden Hurricane in the win over Colorado State, including a 34-yarder as time expired. Oklahoma's kickers have been solid, as Michael Hunnicutt is 5-of-6 on field goals and hit three in the Sooners' 16-7 win over West Virginia, while Nick Hodgson, who handles kickoffs, has had nine of his 12 kickoffs result in touchbacks, including all seven in the season-opening win over Louisiana-Monroe.
Tulsa (1-1) at No. 14 Oklahoma (2-0), 11 a.m. (ESPN2)
Series record: Oklahoma leads 17-7-1
WHAT'S AT STAKE
Oklahoma wants to maintain momentum heading into a difficult three-game stretch following Saturday's game, with contests at Notre Dame, at home against TCU and in Dallas against Texas. Tulsa, often an afterthought in a state with two Big 12 Conference teams, wants to strike a blow for the little guy. A win by the Golden Hurricane would help ease the sting of an embarrassing lopsided loss to Bowling Green in the opener and could cement their status as perhaps the team to beat in Conference USA.
Oklahoma's offense has relied heavily on the run in wins over Louisiana-Monroe (34-0) and West Virginia (16-7), rushing for more than 300 yards in back-to-back games for the first time since doing so against Texas and Baylor in October 1997 - when John Blake was coaching the Sooners. The Sooners will debut a new starting quarterback in Blake Bell, who is known as a power runner. Will Tulsa's defense, which held Colorado State to minus-3 yards in the fourth quarter of a 30-27 win, be up to the task of stopping the Sooners' powerful ground game?
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tulsa: LB Shawn Jackson, who is on the verge of breaking two school career records. Jackson needs 1 1/2 tackles for loss to tie the school mark in that category and two sacks to match the school record of 20 (a mark now co-held by former NFL lineman Dennis Byrd). Last season, despite missing three games due to suspension, he led a defense that recorded 53 sacks, second-best in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Oklahoma: QB Blake Bell, who will be making his first career start. Bell saw plenty of action the past two seasons in Oklahoma's "Belldozer" power-running package but lost a preseason competition to Trevor Knight for the starting job. Knight is out with a bruised knee, opening the door for Bell to state his case as a starter.
FACTS AND FIGURES
Tulsa hasn't won in Norman since 1996 and is 3-11-1 in the series when playing at Oklahoma. . The Golden Hurricane haven't beaten a top-20 team since Sept. 21, 1996, a 27-20 win over then-No. 19 Iowa, and it's been since 1991 that Tulsa beat a top-15 team (35-34 over then-No. 15 Texas A&M). . Tulsa senior running back Trey Watts is the son of former Oklahoma quarterback (and former U.S. Rep.) J.C. Watts . Oklahoma freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander's older brother is Tulsa junior defensive end Derrick Alexander. . No other FBS team has faced two other FBS opponents this season and allowed fewer total points than Oklahoma, which has given up seven points.
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