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2007 Tulsa Preview - Offense
Tulsa Golden Hurricane Offense
Preview 2007 - Offense
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need to know:
Can Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense really work at
this level … take two. All the buzz about Malzahn’s fancy
playbook fizzled in Fayetteville last year, but unlike at
Arkansas, Tulsa coach Todd Graham is on board and prepared to
see all of the offense’s bell and whistles. The system aims to
control the tempo, physically and mentally wear out opponents,
and sort of run a two-minute offense for four quarters. Senior
quarterback Paul Smith is liable to go berserk running this
offense, but a makeshift offensive line and a whole new set of
receivers will be two major stumbling blocks. When the
Hurricane runs the ball, it’ll turn to senior Courtney Tennial
and junior Tarrion Adams, arguably the best running duo in
Passing: Paul Smith
233-350, 2,727 yds, 15 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: Courtney Tennial
171 carries, 845 yds, 14 TD
Receiving: Tarrion Adams
31 catches, 262 yds, 1 TD
Star of the
Senior QB Paul Smith
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
WR Jesse Meyer
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Dion Toliver
Best pro prospect: Senior RB Courtney Tennial
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith 2) Tennial 3)
Strength of the offense: The backfield
Weakness of the offense: The offensive line, receivers
Projected Starter: Considering how much change the
Hurricane offense is facing in 2007, it’s awfully comforting to
know that senior Paul Smith will be back at the helm. A
third-year starter, he’s got the poise to work with a very green
receiving corps and the acumen to digest Gus Malzahn’s new
hurry-up, no-huddle offense. A high percentage passer that
limits his mistakes and can take off and run, Smith has thrown
36 career touchdown passes to just 16 interceptions, scrambled
for 15 scores and is Tulsa’s No. 2 all-time leading passer. An
underrated game manager, he’s on the brink of a much bigger
spotlight in his final season on campus.
Projected Top Reserves: Backing up Smith will be
David Johnson, a junior that shares many of the same
qualities as the starter. He doesn’t have a rifle, but throws
with accuracy, moves well around the pocket and has been the No.
2 man the last two seasons. Johnson has thrown 55 passes over
the last two seasons.
By 2008, redshirt freshman Clark Harrell could be holding
the keys to the offense. No stranger to the spread offense from
his days at Ennis (Tex.) High School, he might be the gunslinger
this offense is seeking. He has good arm strength and is the
fastest of the three Tulsa quarterbacks.
Watch Out For… Smith to adapt quickly to the new
system, but get held back by a supporting cast that includes a
completely revamped offensive line and a receiving corps that
must start from scratch. There’s only so much the senior can
accomplish before the turnover in personnel catches up with him.
Strength: Smith. He’s no glamour boy of college
passers, but he does about 90% of what you need from a
quarterback. Smith has been especially crisp at running the
two-minute offense, which will serve him well in this fast-paced
Weakness: The receivers. Take out the backs, and
Tulsa’s leading returning receiver is tight end Ted Curtis who
caught 13 passes for 93 yards in 2006. Smith pass-catchers are
young, inexperienced, and not likely to strike fear in the minds
of opposing defensive backs.
Outlook: Although Smith will be just fine in 2007,
the players surrounding him are an entirely different story.
With enough time to throw and enough sure-handed receivers, he
could pick up the 3,453 yards needed to pass T.J. Rubley as the
school’s all-time leading passer.
Projected Starters: Tulsa enjoys a rare luxury for
a Conference USA team, two backs with the skills and the
experience to carry the load. Senior Courtney Tennial
and junior Tarrion Adams are No. 1 and No. 1A,
respectively, heading into the season with both figuring to get
plenty of reps this fall. An Oklahoma transfer, Tennial had a
breakout season with the Hurricane in 2006, running for 845
yards and 14 touchdowns and catching 15 passes for two more
scores. A compact runner at 5-9 and 214 pounds, he’s physical
and very difficult to stand up once he gets a head of steam.
Projected Top Reserves: Adams should get 8-10
carries a game, but is most dangerous when he becomes a receiver
from the backfield. A terrific pass-catcher, he was third on
the team last year with 31 catches, giving him 55 in his first
two seasons at Tulsa. Not your typical third down back, Adams
is 6-1 and 205 pounds and hits the hole hard every time he
touches the ball.
Out of nowhere, redshirt freshman Jamad Williams carved
out some playing time in the fall with his performance in the
spring. A converted defensive back, he displayed soft hands and
a little wiggle that the other backs lack.
Watch Out For… Williams to spend as much time in
the slot as lined up behind the quarterback. Todd Graham wants
to get him on the field, and there’s a far greater need at
receiver these days than in the backfield.
Strength: Pass-catching. With the addition of
Williams, the Hurricane now has three backs with great hands.
That’s especially critical in an offense that plans to throw
more in 2007, likes screens and is facing sweeping changes at
Weakness: Big play potential. Maybe Williams
becomes a difference-maker in this area, but more realistically,
Tennial and Adams will get 90% of the touches; neither has shown
a knack for finding seams and leaving defensive backs in their
Outlook: Tennial and Adams give Tulsa a one-two
punch that’ll challenge Southern Miss for tops in Conference
USA. Even as the offensive scales shift more toward the passing
attack, the running game will not be ignored.
Projected Starters: Although the Hurricane
receivers weren’t exactly scary good last year, losing its top
three performers at the position has the offense mining for new
talent in 2007. One player that’s made a nice impression since
arriving from junior college is Dion Toliver, who made a
bee line to the top of the depth chart in his spring debut. A
slippery receiver at just 5-10 and 175 pounds, he makes people
miss in the open field and appears capable of being the
playmaker that this group is seeking.
Junior Nick Henderson is the elder statesman of the
likely starters and one of the position’s few returning
letterwinners. More steady than spectacular, he runs tight
routes and catches everything that’s thrown within his reach.
Jesse Meyer is only a sophomore, but he has more upside
than any of the Hurricane receivers. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, he
has tremendous wheels and an overall physical package that
dwarfs those around him. After catching eight passes as a
freshman, the pieces are in place for Meyer to be the team’s
long ball threat if he cuts down on his number of drops.
Back at tight end is senior Ted Curtis, who caught a
dozen balls last year, and was tied for second on the team with
a pair of touchdown receptions. Built like a fullback at 6-1
and 242 pounds, he’s not the type of receiver that’ll torch a
linebacker down the middle of the field.
Projected Top Reserves: If Tulsa is going to have
any kind of depth at receiver this year, it’s up to three
previously anonymous seniors to leave their marks on the
program. Kyle Grooms, Cameron Clemons and
Corey Kizer have four letters between them, but very few
catches and a big responsibility for the upcoming season. A
former JUCO star, Kizer has the right blend of size, speed and
leaping ability to be a major impact player for the offense.
Grooms is a big, 6-3 target that has earned his letters and
playing time on special teams. Like Kizer, Clemons came to
Tulsa after a successful career in junior college. The 5-11,
180-pounder played in five games last year, but will be expected
to contribute much more in 2007.
Watch Out For… lots of dropped passes and tipped
balls that become picks. The ball will be in the air a lot this
year, increasing the number of times an inexperienced receiving
corps will make errors.
Strength: Paul Smith. While the learning curve
will be particularly steep for these guys, they’ll be helped by
the presence of a veteran quarterback that completes two-thirds
of his passes and throws a very catchable ball.
Weakness: Lack of a true No. 1 receiver. It
wouldn’t be so bad if the Hurricane had someone to deflect
attention away from the other starters as they get accustomed to
new roles. Instead, Toliver, Henderson and Meyer are all twos
and threes that are being asked to play like a go-to guy.
Outlook: If Gus Malzahn’s offense tanks in year
one, this group of receivers will likely be the culprit.
Toliver, and Meyer have exciting upside, but most of it won’t be
realized until 2008.
Projected Starters: After enjoying stability and
strong play on the line the last couple of years, Tulsa will be
rebuilding its front wall with just a single returning starter,
junior right guard Justin Morsey. The extreme turnover
makes new line coach Herb Hand one of the most important members
of the staff in 2007. Undersized at 6-2 and 282 pounds, he
showed good quickness in last year’s ten starts and is embracing
his new role as the group’s leader.
At left guard, 6-3, 305-pound sophomore Curt Puckett has
won the starting assignment. A key backup in 2006, he stepped
up his game in the spring and is versatile enough to play some
tackle, if needed.
One of the biggest stories of the off-season was the move of
senior Walter Boyd from defensive to offensive tackle. A
three-time letterwinner, he’s made a smooth transition so far.
Boyd still needs plenty of work on his technique, but has shown
great footwork for a 320-pound linemen and a tireless work
At right tackle, Tulsa has anointed hulking junior Rodrick
Thomas after a breakout spring. At 6-4 and 347 pounds,
he’ll maul opposing linemen, but his weight is literally a big
concern in an offense that is unforgiving to out of shape
Sophomore Jody Whaley is on the verge of locking down the
center job for the Hurricane. A very physical player at the
point of attack, like so many of his linemates, he’s capable of
playing multiple positions.
Projected Top Reserves: Easily the most important
player on the second team will be senior Wade Whitlow, a
veteran that’s listed as a backup at both right guard and right
tackle. While Morsey and Thomas are relatively safe on the
right side at this time, Whitlow will be a key part of a
rotation that’s way short on experience.
Sophomore Travis Wike has added 35 pounds since leaving
high school, switched from tight end, and settled in nicely at
center. Still a little light at 279 pounds, he compensates by
being one of the most athletic of the interior linemen.
Watch Out For… the role of true freshmen tackle
Tyler Holmes and guard Brandon Washington. Although
Holmes is a good one that got a bunch of offers in February and
participated in spring, it’s never a good sign when a couple of
teenagers play a vital in such an important part of the offense.
Strength: Run blocking. If nothing else, the
revamped line has good size and will be particularly physical,
good news for backs that grown accustomed to running room.
Weakness: Inexperience. One returning starter can
be overcome if the newcomers got extensive action as backups,
but that’s not the case with this unit. There’s nothing even
remotely close to an anchor and the second team is very spotty.
Outlook: Up and down the roster, nothing makes new
head coach Todd Graham more nervous than this unsettled group.
Who could blame him? Without enough quality blockers, the line
will prevent the offense from finding its rhythm in 2007.