2012 Tulsa Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 7, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Tulsa Golden Hurricane Defense

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Preview 2012 - Defense

- 2012 Tulsa Preview | 2012 Tulsa Offense
- 2012 Tulsa Defense | 2012 Tulsa Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: Coordinator Brent Guy debuted to mixed reviews in Tulsa, smoothly transitioning from a 3-3-5 alignment to a more traditional 4-3, but also getting dissected by quality opponents. His Year 2 objective will be to raise the bar on a unit returning seven starters. The Hurricane boasts all-conference contenders at each level, from DE Cory Dorris and LB Shawn Jackson in the front seven to the dynamite safety duo of Dexter McCoil and Marco Nelson. Tulsa prefers to operate at a hyper pace, dictating the tempo of the game by flying to the ball, taking chances and applying pressure behind the line. The hectic approach will cost the defense from time to time, but it has a habit of compensating with the kind of big plays that quiet opposing crowds, and altering a game's momentum.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Shawn Jackson, 101
Sacks: Shawn Jackson, 4.5
Interceptions: Dexter McCoil, 6

Star of the defense: Senior S Dexter McCoil
Player who has to step up and become a star:Senior DE Cory Dorris
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB DeWitt Jennings
Best pro prospect: McCoil
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Junior LB Shawn Jackson, 2) McCoil, 3) Junior S Marco Nelson
Strength of the defense: Takeaways, interior linemen, speed, the safeties, run defense
Weakness of the defense: Edge pressure, middle linebacker, red zone pass defense, third down D

Defensive Line

Having made the shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3 a year ago, Tulsa feels a lot more settled heading into the upcoming season. Of course, it helps to have three returning starters up front. First team all-star Tyrunn Walker is gone, leaving powerful senior Cory Dorris as the new mainstay at defensive end. About to enter his fourth year as a starter, the 6-4, 260-pounder has been solid, especially in run defense, but big plays have eluded him. In 2011, he racked up 55 tackles, best among the linemen, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and three blocked kicks. Someone, like Dorris, will need to offset Walker's eight sacks from a year ago.

The likely successor to Walker at the other end spot is 6-2, 250-pound senior Jared St. John who moved ahead of 6-3, 239-pound sophomore Brentom Todd during the spring. A former walk-on, St. John earned his first letter—and first start—in 2011, making a dozen tackles, two stops for loss and 1.5 sacks. Todd shows a little more quickness and long-term potential as a pass rusher, but needs to sharpen his fundamentals. He whet the staff's appetite as a rookie with 16 tackles, 4.5 stops for loss and two sacks.

The coaches are also eager to get a better look at redshirt freshman Derrick Alexander in the summer. The 6-2, 270-pound former Player of the Year in the state of Oklahoma will spend the 2012 learning behind Dorris and adapting to the speed of the game.

Both of last season's interior starters are back again in 2012. Former end Daeshon Bufford settled in nicely at tackle in 2011, collecting 33 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Although the senior has beefed up to 6-3 and 292 pounds, he's maintained the quickness and agility needed to zip past lumbering blockers.

Joining Bufford on the inside is 6-2, 294-pound senior Derrick Jackson, who has three career letters to his name. Big, powerful and difficult to move off his block, he started every game of 2011, and made 25 tackles and 5.5 stops for loss. He's a prototypical space-eater in the middle of the line.

Former Texas Tech Red Raider—and offensive lineman— Joe King has found a home on defense. Bufford's backup made 10 tackles in 2011, giving the Golden Hurricane a 6-6, 309-pound presence at tackle.

Watch Out For .... Tulsa's opponents to run outside the tackles instead of between them. The Hurricane is going to be underrated on the interior this fall. Bufford and Jackson are not household names, even in Conference USA circles, but they're the kind of scrappers who can create traffic jams in the middle of the line.
Strength: Run defense. A year after allowing just 3.3 yards a carry, Tulsa will be difficult to run on once again. The front four is comprised of stout and physical seniors who do a nice job of disengaging from blocks and sealing off running lanes.
Weakness: Outside pressure. The Golden Hurricane will be plenty active on the inside with Bufford and Jackson, but who'll be rushing the passer from the edge? Sure, there's always the option of turning loose a linebacker or a safety, but the staff would prefer not to overuse that tactic. None of the current ends, even Dorris, will strike fear into opposing tackles.
Outlook: Feisty. Hard-working. Blue-collar. There are a lot of ways to describe the Tulsa defensive line, but dominant will not be one of them. The senior-laden group is going to bring it on every down, making sure that the other team knows it participated in a battle. Getting to the quarterback using conventional methods, though, is going to be a year-long challenge.
Rating: 6


With the departures of two very productive linebackers, leading tackler Curnelius Arnick and Alan Dock, junior Shawn Jackson will be more important to the Hurricane D this fall. The team's star at weakside has cobbled together two terrific seasons after arriving from high school as a dual-threat quarterback. His resume may say honorable mention All-Conference USA, but his production was far better than that designation. An instinctive and frenetic performer, he collected 101 tackles, 11 stops for loss, 4.5 sacks, two picks and five pass breakups. While only 6-0 and 251 pounds, he'll deliver the payload, and moves very well from sideline to sideline.

Dock's old CANE position is likely to be handled by 5-10, 211-pound junior DeWitt Jennings, who's itching for a promotion after earning letters as a backup in 2010 and 2011. He made 25 tackles off the bench and on special teams, displaying the range and closing speed that the staff looks for at the position.

The crucial battle to supplant Arnick in the middle will come down to 6-1, 221-pound junior Donnell Hawkins versus 6-2, 242-pound redshirt freshman Trent Martin. Hawkins has earned two letters with the program, and is the quicker of the competitors. Martin, on the other hand, is the future at the position. He's added 20 pounds of muscle since arriving from local power, Jenks (Okla.) High School, and operates with the instincts that coaches seek in an inside linebacker. At worst, he'll earn a letter as a key backup.

Watch Out For .... the rehabilitation of senior DeAundre Brown who could miss the early part of this season. The program's leading tackler of 2009 missed 2010 due to academics, and failed to crack the lineup upon his return in 2011. Still, he has the range and the punch that will earn him a long look at both CANE and MIKE linebacker once he returns to 100%.
Strength: Range. By design, the Tulsa linebackers are built an awful lot like safeties. The staff encourages its athletes to pin their ears back, lock on to a target and explode upon impact. Led by Jackson, a real guided missile, the Hurricane defenders close quickly, and go from sideline to sideline in the shortest time possible.
Weakness: Middle linebacker. Unless Brown is able to change the dynamic, there's going to be an enormous falloff from Arnick in the middle. Hawkins and Martin are no slouches, but they're also no sure-things for a defense that's going to miss its emotional leader from a year ago.
Outlook: While there could be a dip in play at the second level, the Hurricane remains confident in the athletic linebackers it'll put on the field each weekend. Jackson is a top talent by the Conference USA measuring stick, and the staff will surround him with teammates capable of making stops all over the field. Tulsa is going to be feisty at linebacker because, well, that's become a trademark of this defense over the past decade.
Rating: 6


For the Hurricane defensive backfield, the discussion must begin with the safeties, arguably the best duo in Conference USA. Returning to BANDIT for a fourth year as a starter is senior Dexter McCoil, a versatile all-around performer who'll get a long look from NFL scouts. It's not often that a 6-4, 222-pounder is a dangerous pass defender, but the athletic McCoil is an exception to the rule. As a junior, he notched 84 tackles and picked off six passes for a second consecutive season. With a full year left, his 13 career interceptions have him tied for the all-time school record. Not one to rely solely on his physical gifts, he's the leader of the D and one of the headiest players on either side of the ball. McCoil has the total package to get a Combine invite next February.

At free safety is 6-0, 192-pound Marco Nelson, another starter since his freshman season. A former high school running back with no defensive experience in high school, he has flourished on this side of the ball. The junior sat out spring drills to recover from an injury, allowing sure-tackling redshirt freshman Michael Mudoh to show that he deserves reps in September. However, this is Nelson's job. The speedy, explosive thoroughbred chipped in 73 tackles, five pass breakups and two fumble recoveries in 2011.

The return of a familiar face hopes to give a lift to the corners. Senior John Flanders, who has logged 22 career starts, is back after missing all of 2011. He has excellent wheels and an ample supply of know-how, but at 5-10 and 170 pounds, has a tendency of getting outmuscled for balls.

Tulsa's premier cover corner is senior Lowell Rose, a one-time transfer from UCLA. He played well as a nine-game starter in 2011, making 35 tackles and leading the team with nine pass breakups. At 6-1 and 192 pounds, he has ideal size for the position to go along with the hips and leaping ability to contend for all-league recognition in his final year of eligibility.

Quality depth behind Flanders and Rose doesn't figure to be an issue. Senior J.D. Ratliff sophomore Dwight Dobbins and senior Justin Skillens all lettered in 2011, with the latter two starting at least one game.

Watch Out For .... Mudoh to get the nod in certain nickel packages. He took full advantage of Nelson's absence in the spring, consistently making to earn the respect of his teammates and coaches. While only 5-10 and 198 pounds, the converted cornerback took delight in lowering his shoulder and wrapping up in textbook fashion.
Strength: Takeaways. The Hurricane ranked third in the league with 18 interceptions last fall, a predictable result when a team loads up on athletic risk-takers. The program's defensive backs are well-sized, aggressive and instructed to make things happen as much as possible.
Weakness: Red zone defense. The biggest knock on the pass defense is that it simply allows too many touchdown passes. Okay, so the Hurricane was whipped by some gifted quarterbacks in 2011, such as Brandon Weeden, Kellen Moore and Case Keenum, but 25 scoring strikes are still a few too many to yield.
Outlook: Now that the Tulsa secondary is a year older, it hopes to prove that it's a year better as well. Since the scheduling is not quite as daunting, the results should be improved. The Hurricane boasts a talented quartet of starters, with McCoil, Nelson and Rose all dreaming of playing on Sundays. If the unit can tighten up its coverage, and get a little more help from the D-line, it has a chance to be a very pleasant surprise in 2012.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Okay, so the loss of PK Kevin Fitzpatrick isn't as profound as, say, QB G.J. Kinne, but it's still going to hurt. The First Team All-Conference USA pick nailed 15-of-18 field goals a year ago. In his place steps true freshman Daniel Schwarz who has yet to arrive, but could win the job uncontested. One of the nation's top kicking prospects has terrific leg strength and the maturity to handle the job with poise.

The constant on special teams will be sophomore Cole Way, the 6-8, 205-pounder with the untapped potential. He started the first seven games of 2011 before being supplanted by Fitzpatrick, averaging just 38 yards, and having a pair of punts blocked. Way might be considered at placekicker as well if Schwarz stumbles.

Junior Trey Watts will be the team's primary return man, handling both punts and kickoffs. Also a productive ballcarrier, he averaged 24 yards on kickoffs, taking a 94-yarder back in the win over UTEP.

Watch Out For … Schwarz's summer. He's the only viable option at placekicker, and yet to even go to his prom. Tulsa won't need him to be Fitzpatrick quite yet, but it'll help the overall psyche of the special teams if he can leave no doubts about his ability in August.
Strength: The return game. With Watts leading the charge, the returners harbor the potential to become an asset to the offense. Field position is going to be especially critical now that a new quarterback is being broken in.
Weakness: Legs. The placekicker is prepping for his prom. And the punter is still smarting from being benched last fall. Now, things might work out after all if Schwarz and Way beat the odds, but it's more likely that at least one of the two is going to be a liability this fall.
Outlook: The Golden Hurricane is about to suffer through a decline on special teams now that Fitzpatrick isn't around to be a jack-of-all-trades. Way should be improved now that he has a season of experience in the vault, but fingers will be crossed that Schwarz can immediately prove why he was one of the most coveted high school kickers on signing day.
Unit Rating:
- 2012 Tulsa Preview | 2012 Tulsa Offense
- 2012 Tulsa Defense | 2012 Tulsa Depth Chart