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2006 Armed Forces Bowl - Utah vs. Tulsa

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Dec 14, 2006


2006 Bell Helicopters Armed Forces Bowl - Utah vs. Tulsa


Tulsa (8-4) vs. Utah (7-5)

Dec. 23, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

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Armed Forces Bowl Player Profile: Tulsa QB Paul Smith, team bowl history and more

This is more than just a battle of mid-major also-rans, these are two powers in their respective conferences with each hoping to end a slightly disappointing season on a high note.

Utah hasn't quite been able to capitalize on the momentum from 12-0 2004 season, but the team has been decent over the last two years under head coach Kyle Whittingham and has been amazing in its last three bowl appearances going 3-0 by a combined score of 90 to 17. This is a relatively young team that should be one of the favorites for the 2007 Mountain West title once 2005 starting quarterback Brian Johnson returns from a knee injury.


 
National Rankings
Tulsa Utah
Total Offense
20th  399.75 ypg  43rd  365.33 ypg
Total Defense
19th  272.83 ypg 56th  327.23 ypg
Scoring Offense
31st  28.92 ppg  35th  28.17 ppg
Scoring Defense
41st  19.75 ppg 46th  20.42 ppg
Run Offense
32nd  167.58 ypg 56th  138.42 ypg
Run Defense
57th  135.33 ypg 26th  107.33 ypg
Pass Offense
30th  232.17 ypg 36th  226.92 ypg
Pass Defense
6th  152.50 ypg 86th  220.50 ypg
Turnover Margin
a 5th  -.0.42 16th  0.67
Tulsa
S. F. Austin W 45-7
at BYU L 49-24
North Texas W 28-3
at Navy W 24-23 OT
So Miss W 20-6
at East Car. W 31-10
at Memphis W 35-14
UTEP W 30-20
at Houston L 27-10
Rice L 41-38 2OT
at SMU L 34-24
Tulane W 38-3
Utah
at UCLA L 31-10
No. Arizona W 45-7
at Utah State W 48-0
at SDSU W 38-7
Boise State L 36-3
TCU W 20-7
at Wyoming L 31-15
at New Mex L 34-31
UNLV W 45-23
Colorado St W 35-22
at Air Force W 17-14
BYU L 33-31
Position Ratings
relative to each other
T 5 highest
1 lowest
U
4 Quarterbacks 3.5
3 RBs 2
3 Receivers 3.5
3.5 O Line 3.5
3 D Line 4
3.5 Linebackers 3
4 Secondary 3
3.5 Spec Teams 4
4.5 Coaching 3.5

Tulsa won its bowl game last year beating Fresno State 31-24 in the Liberty Bowl, but this has been a different team than the 2005 Conference USA championship version. Head coach Steve Kragthorpe, after turning around the once-lousy program, is one of the hot names for several top coaching vacancies and can become an even hotter property with a win for the school's second straight nine win season.

After starting out hot with a 7-1 record and apparently cruising for another Conference USA title, the wheels started to come off in an unTulsa-like 27-10 loss to Houston sparking a three-game losing streak before finishing up with a dominant beatdown of Tulane. This isn't the mistake-free, solid-in-all-areas team of last year, but it has a balanced, efficient offensive attack and led the league in defense allowing just 288 yards per game.

Utah was all excited about possibly starting its season off with a bang hoping for a splashy win over UCLA to get early national attention. One 31-10 thumping later and the Utes were quickly forgotten about. After an inconsistent first eight games highlighted by a dominant win over TCU and hitting bottom with a 36-3 destruction by Boise State, QB Brett Ratliff turned things around to win three straight before succumbing to BYU in a 33-31, last second heartbreaker.

This isn't the Ute team that you might remember from a few years ago with the spread offense using the passing game more than the coaching staff might like, but it doesn't make a lot of mistakes, is great at ball security, and is solid on special teams. Unfortunately, it lacks home-run hitting pop and if the passing game breaks down, it's not pretty.

These are two interesting, evenly matched teams representing two conferences desperate for respect. Each is good enough to hang around with the big boys, and each is good enough to be one of the early favorites for their respective league titles. If they play up to their capabilities, this will be entertaining, but if one falls into the same ugly habit that prevented a trip to a better bowl (inconsistency in the Utah passing game, turnovers for Tulsa), then this could be a dog.

Players to watch: You likely haven't seen Utah All-American Eric Weddle play, so here's your shot before he becomes a high round draft pick next year. With great speed, linebacker-like tackling skills, and a nose for the ball, he's the Utes' main weapon on both sides of the ball being used as a running back, quarterback, corner, and safety throughout the season. While he's technically a corner, he's more of a hybrid being used as a strong safety while occasionally lining up on the opposing team's number one target when needed. Most famously, he shut down Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson in last year's Emerald Bowl.

Weddle and the Utah defense's main job will be to keep track of Tulsa's Idris Moss, who is a jack-of-all-trades for the offense. Mainly a receiver with 54 catches for 772 yards and a touchdown highlighted by a 13-catch, 120-yard game against SMU. He'll be used as a running back, punt returner and kickoff returner to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.

Getting Moss the ball is Paul Smith, the steady, but unspectacular, passer who knows the offense back and forth and is almost always in total control. He had a problem with interceptions over the second half of the season, throwing a pick in every game over a five week stretch, but he's normally good at hanging on to the ball and he's fantastic on third downs. 

Smith's counterpart, Brett Ratliff, is everything to the Utah offense. So bad in the middle of the year that there was talk of Brian Johnson possibly coming back early from his knee injury to try to salvage the season, Ratliff turned things around throwing for more than 200 yards in each of his last five games. He's not the ideal fit for the Utah offense with no appreciable running skills, but he's not a statue with 225 yards and a touchdown on the year. When the coaching staff wants the quarterback to run, it usually goes with Weddle.

Utah will win if... it gets the ball moving on the ground. Tulsa's pass defense isn't quite as good as its No. 6 national ranking might indicate, but it's good enough to keep the Utah passing game from rolling for four quarters. It might take several players and several different options, but Utah has to run the ball. For the most part, Tulsa lost when the run defense struggled getting blown out by BYU and Houston after allowing more than 220 yards, and was 7-0 when allowing 126 rushing yards or fewer.

Tulsa will win if... it wins the turnover battle. Oddly enough, the Golden Hurricane has been able to survive most of its big mistakes, but in an even game like this should be, the team that commits the fewest errors will likely pull out the win. Utah doesn't turn it over that often, but when it does, the results are disastrous getting blown out by UCLA after giving it away three times, losing to Wyoming after turning it over four times, and getting annihilated by Boise State after throwing four interceptions and losing a fumble.

What will happen: This isn't last year's Tulsa team. Utah's offensive line will give Ratliff all the time in the world to operate on the Golden Hurricane secondary, while the ground game will get just enough to give the offense a little bit of balance. Utah has a bit more overall athleticism, is better at holding on to the ball, and has a fantastic punting game to get by with a workmanlike win.

Line: Utah -2 ... CFN Prediction:
Utah 31 ... Tulsa 20

Armed Forces Bowl Player Profile: Tulsa QB Paul Smith, team bowl history and more