2014 CFN Preview - Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Tulsa WR Keyarris Garrett
Tulsa WR Keyarris Garrett
Posted Jul 26, 2014

Preview 2014 - Now that the Hurricane has died down, can it regain its bluster? (Getty Images)

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Preview 2014

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By Richard Cirminiello

- 2014 Tulsa Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Bill Blankenship
Fourth year: 22-17
Returning Lettermen
Off. 23, Def. 26, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 13
 Ten Best Tulsa Players
1. FS Demarco Nelson, Sr.
2. BAN Michael Mudoh, Jr.
3. WR Keyarris Garrett, Jr.
4. DE Derrick Alexander, Jr.
5. LB Trent Martin, Jr.
6. LT Garrett Stafford, Jr.
7. DT Derrick Luetjen, Jr.
8. CB Will Barrow, Soph.
9. WR Keevan Lucas, Soph.
10. DE Chris Hummingbird, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 28 Tulane
Sep. 6 Oklahoma
Sep. 13 at Florida Atlantic
Sep. 27 Texas State
Oct. 4 at Colorado State
Oct. 11 at Temple
Oct. 18 South Florida
Oct. 31 at Memphis
Nov. 8 SMU
Nov. 14 at UCF
Nov. 22 at Houston
Nov. 28 East Carolina

Now that the Hurricane has died down, can it regain its bluster?

This figures to be a challenging year for head coach Bill Blankenship. His Tulsa team is not only coming off its worst season in over a decade, but it must rebuild in a new league, the American, without its best offensive and defensive players. The coach and his staff will use the purging as an opportunity to start anew, with fierce competition for jobs happening on both sides of the ball. The Hurricane needs to get back to what it does best, running the ball with authority and creating defensive havoc.

Prior to last season, Tulsa was among the steadiest of the mid-majors, winning at least eight games in eight of the last 10 seasons. And in 2005 and 2012, the Hurricane were Conference USA champs. But in 2013, the bottom fell out. It was one of those dreadful campaigns that every program endures eventually. Now, Tulsa is going to be measured on how long it stays down.

The Hurricane’s biggest concerns, by far, will be on a turnover-prone offense that ranked 103rd nationally in scoring. The backfield will be ground zero for the hand-wringing and sleepless nights in Tulsa. The program is in the market for a reliable quarterback and a feature back now that last season’s top two rushers have graduated. Sophomore QB Dane Evans ended spring atop the depth chart, but he was a disaster in five starts last year. At running back, James Flanders holds an edge on Tavarreon Dickerson, a transfer from Trinity Valley (Tex.) Community College.

Optimism for 2014 can be found on defense, where just a single starter needs to be replaced. The unit has the parts to be profoundly tighter, especially since FS Marco Nelson and LB Trent Martin are back from an academic suspension and a leg injury, respectively. The D will be good enough to shoulder the load until the offense finds more support for Keyarris Garrett and the rest of an up-and-coming corps of receivers.

Tulsa is down. Blankenship wants to be sure it’s not there for long. The Hurricane will have even less margin for error—and familiarity—this season, as the program begins life in the American. If the backfield is able to regroup on the fly, this team has enough talent elsewhere to turn 2013 into a fluky, one-year departure from business as usual.

What to watch for on offense: Keeping the focus on the ground. Tulsa is a ground-and-pound program that’s at its best when multiple backs are gobbling up yards between the hashes. So, it’s no surprise that the team finished below .500 the last two years it failed to rush for 2,000 yards. Last season’s top two runners, Trey Watts and Ja’Terian Douglas, have exhausted their eligibility, which will heap pressure on James Flanders and Tavarreon Dickerson. Flanders ran well throughout the spring, as did Dickerson before fracturing his collarbone.

What to watch for on defense: Competition at linebacker. The Hurricane’s only departing starter is a good one, all-league LB Shawn Jackson. His successor will be one of the seasoned vets on the roster, right? Not necessarily. At the end of spring, a couple of redshirt freshman, Craig Suits and C.J. Gooden, were atop the depth chart at Cane and weakside, respectively. Mitchell Osborne, who’s earned three letters at Tulsa, could still beat out Suits, but a message has been sent that youth might be served at linebacker this fall.

The team will be far better if … the Hurricane can solve its turnover problem. Tulsa has long been skilled at creating takeaways, but momentum-changing plays on defense were offset last year by a mess of offensive mistakes. The Hurricane tuned the ball over 34 times, which was the third most in the country. While the inconsistent play of the quarterbacks was an obvious problem, so was an inability to get a handle on the ball. Tulsa doesn’t have enough of a margin of error to be so careless with the ball again in 2014.

The Schedule: The Golden Hurricane are off and running right away with a conference date against Tulane to kick things off, and while they have to deal with Oklahoma, three of the first four games are at home and the road date at Florida Atlantic isn’t bad. And then comes the hard part going on the road for three of the next four games and five of the next seven before closing out against a loaded East Carolina team at home. Tulsa has to go to UCF and Houston in a brutal back-to-back November stretch, and overall there aren’t any true breathers.

Best Offensive Player: Junior WR Keyarris Garrett. Garrett is back after missing almost all of 2013 to a serious leg injury. And the Hurricane quarterbacks couldn’t be much happier about the development. Garrett creates all kinds of matchup problems with his prodigious size and leaping ability. He can also turn bad balls into big plays, which he’ll get to do often at Tulsa. The Hurricane ranked 122nd in pass efficiency rating last season, completing just 49% of its passes and throwing 19 interceptions.

Best Defensive Player: Senior FS Marco Nelson. The fact that Nelson missed all of last season because of academics will wind up being a blessing for the 2014 team. He alone wasn’t going to transform the three-win 2013 edition, and now he’s back to spearhead the rebuilding effort on defense. Nelson is a gifted all-around defensive back, with 39 career starts and a history of all-star appearances. He’ll be rejoining a defensive backfield that didn’t lose a single letterwinner from a year ago to graduation.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Dane Evans. If Tulsa’s play at quarterback even remotely resembles 2013, the program will again finish below .500. The Hurricane was an atrocious passing team last year, with Evans contributing to the follies as a five-game starter. The 6-2, 210-pounder improved in the spring to build separation on the competition. But, seriously, the only way was up after he completed 43% of his passes and threw six more picks than touchdowns.

The season will be a success if ... the Hurricane makes a return engagement to the postseason. Sure, Tulsa failed epically by going 3-9 in a year that it believed it could win back-to-back Conference USA titles. But this program knows how to win and it returns a ton of veterans. Not only will it play this season with something to prove, but it’ll do so against a relatively manageable, save for a Sept. 6 visit from Oklahoma and a wicked three-game stretch to close out the regular season.

Key game: Nov. 8 vs. SMU. If Tulsa has designs on bowling in December, it better gobble up wins when it can, because the year ends with trips to UCF and Houston and a visit from East Carolina. If the Hurricane rights the ship in the early going the game with the Mustangs could be to lock up bowl-eligibility. Tulsa-SMU will be a renewal of a rivalry that heated up when both were members of Conference USA from 2005-20012 and the WAC from 1996-2004.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Turnovers: Tulsa 34 – Opponents 24
- Touchdowns scored: Tulsa 29 – Opponents 52
- Sacks: Tulsa 31 - Opponents 10

- 2014 Tulsa Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players