2011 Tulsa Preview
Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Tulsa Golden Hurricane Preview
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By Richard Cirminiello
After successfully navigating the choppy waters of 2009, Tulsa will look stay afloat aboard the S.S. Blankenship.
Coach: Bill Blankenship
First year: 0-0
Off. 25, Def. 24, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 12
Ten Best Tulsa Players
1. WR/KR/PR Damaris Johnson, Sr.
2. QB G.J. Kinne, Sr.
3. LB Curnelius Arnick, Sr.
4. LB Shawn Jackson, Sr.
5. S Marco Nelson, Soph.
6. DE Tyrunn Walker, Sr.
7. LB DeAundre Brown, Jr.
8. OG Clint Anderson, Sr.
9. S Dexter McCoil, Jr.
10. OT Tyler Holmes, Sr.
Sep. 3 at Oklahoma
Sep. 10 at Tulane
Sep. 17 Oklahoma St
Sep. 24 at Boise State
Oct. 1 North Texas
Oct. 8 OPEN DATE
Oct. 15 UAB
Oct. 22 at Rice
Oct. 29 SMU
Nov. 5 at UCF
Nov. 12 Marshall
Nov. 19 at UTEP
Nov. 26 Houston
The Golden Hurricane fashioned a swift rebound last fall by capping a 10-3 with seven consecutive victories. Included in the streak was a memorable win in South Bend and a rout of Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. Tulsa had its mojo back, and then head coach Todd Graham decided to take promotion at Pittsburgh. A stepping stone rather than a destination job, the program lost a head coach to the Big East for the second time in five years. The responsibility of keeping the Hurricane among the Conference USA elite now belongs to one-time assistant Bill Blankenship, a former quarterback with the school in the 1970s.
Blankenship won't be blamed if he doesn't tinker with the offense this fall. The Hurricane returns many of the key weapons from an attack that ranked No. 5 nationally in total offense and No. 6 in scoring. QB G.J. Kinne is one of the game's dynamite dual-threats, accounting for 38 touchdowns in 2010. Ditto multi-dimensional WR Damaris Johnson, the NCAA's all-time career leader in all-purpose yards. If the line can raise the bar in pass protection, Skelly Stadium will once again be home to one of the nation's toughest offenses to defend.
Although the Hurricane isn't a program that typically wins with defense, this season's group has a chance to be a genuine asset. Eight starters return, including a collection of linebackers and safeties that'll be the envy of some Big 12 schools. Tulsa is going to yield its share of yards and big plays. However, it'll compensate with a slew of money plays, takeaways and sacks that alter the momentum of a game.
Kinne and Johnson will continue to make most of the headlines, but a handful of the school's defenders, such as LB Curnelius Arnick and S Marco Nelson, will be worthy of national attention as well.
Tulsa righted the ship in 2010, posting double-digit wins for the third time in the last four years. The 2011 edition, flush with veteran talent on both sides of the ball, is setting its target even higher. The Hurricane is eyeing the Conference USA title that's eluded it since 2005.
What to watch for on offense: Damaris Johnson's supporting cast at receiver. After the playmaker, there's going to be a precipitous drop-off to the rest of the Hurricane pass-catchers. Now, Johnson is going to make his share of plays. He always does. However, this offense isn't designed to be one-dimensional. At its most potent when it's balanced, Tulsa is hoping to get more help from the likes of Thomas Roberson, Ricky Johnson, and Jordan James. The 6-2, 205-pound James was one of the breakout surprises of the spring, positioning himself for a starting job in the fall.
What to watch for on Defense: Hurricane warnings. When you have tons of speed and athleticism, why not attack on a liberal basis? Tulsa has been employing that strategy for years. Now, with so many returning starters, the staff is more comfortable than ever turning loose its linebackers and safeties. Linebackers Shawn Jackson, Curnelius Arnick, and DeAundre Brown will join safeties Marco Nelson and Dexter McCoil, harassing opposing quarterbacks whenever they're give an opportunity.
The team will be far better if … the defensive backfield blossoms. The Hurricane houses plenty of raw talent in the secondary, with the operative word being on "raw". Tulsa will make a head-turning play on one down and then allow a receiver to get behind it on the next. The team ranked last nationally in pass defense a year ago, giving up 319 yards a game through the air. An about-face is doubtful, but it's not unrealistic to ask for better coverage and a few more batted balls.
The Schedule: Can the offense keep up the pace in the opener against Oklahoma? Probably not, but it'll be fun. The Oklahoma State and Boise State games should be just as fun, but the showdowns could mean a 1-3 start. On the plus side, that one win should in the Conference USA opener against Tulane. There's a week off before facing UAB, and the conference breaks don't stop missing East Carolina and Southern Miss. However, the Golden Hurricane has to go on the road to face UCF from the East. The SMU and Houston games are at home with the showdown against the Cougars likely to determine the West title.
Best Offensive Player: Senior WR Damaris Johnson. No player in NCAA history has accumulated more all-purpose yards than Johnson, who still has another full season to pad his mark. As exciting a utility player as there is in the country, he can bring the other team to its knees in a multitude of different ways. The 5-8, 170-pound jackrabbit entices his staff to get the ball in his hands in as many new ways as possible. A year ago, for instance, he ran for 560 yards and seven scores, while catching a team-best 57 balls for 872 yards and four touchdowns.
Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Curnelius Arnick. The defensive playmaker is moving to the middle after playing strongside a year ago. The position may be different, but the results are expected to be the same. A high-motor, high-energy guy, with outstanding instincts for the flow of the play, he earned honorable mention All-Conference USA in 2010. It might have been an oversight for a Tulsa team leader who amassed a Hurricane-high 115 stops, nine tackles for loss, five sacks, and four picks.
Key players to a successful season: The defensive tackles. Tulsa has to start asserting itself from the interior of the line, creating the kind of push that makes life simpler for the guys on the edge. If Derrick Jackson, Darrell Zellars, and the backups are able to puncture the inside gaps, it'll make the hard-charging ends, linebackers, and safeties that much more effective to the overall pass rush.
The season will be a success if ... Tulsa wins the Conference USA crown. Why not? Sure, the Western half of the league is going to be a bear trap, but the Hurricane has as much talent as anyone in the conference. While a thorny non-conference schedule will prevent any realistic chatter about a BCS bowl run, facing Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Boise State in September is going to help make the program battle-tested for October, November, and hopefully the first weekend of December.
Key game: Nov. 25 vs. Houston. Although SMU will certainly get a voice in the debate, the regular season finale at Skelly Stadium is expected to go a long way toward determining the West Division champion. The likely co-favorites entering the season always seem to put on a fireworks display that's fit for the Fourth of July. The G.J. Kinne vs. Case Keenum duel alone will be worth the price of a ticket when the Hurricane and the Cougars face off on the day after Thanksgiving.
2010 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards: Tulsa 2,820 – Opponents 1,714
- Interceptions: Tulsa 24 – Opponents 11
- Touchdowns scored: Tulsa 70 - Opponents 53
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