Coming into this season, Tulsa seemed like a very even matchup for USF. The week of the game, it still looks every even. The point spread is only 2 points. The two squads share many similarities, and some parallel strengths and weaknesses.
Al Burke, who writes about Appalachian State and Tulsa for Underdog Dynasty, was kind enough to answer our questions about this week's game. He also has a blog at fullbackcounter.sportsblog.com.
V5: Going into the season, Tulsa's offensive scheme it was described as "hybrid", but lately it seems more like "whatever works." Against Texas State, TU abandoned the short passing game for a power running approach, to get back into that game. What is Tulsa's offensive scheme at this point?
AB: That is a fair point, but I think they are trying to protect Dane Evans. He has proven to be pretty flaky at quarterback, tossing the ball up for grabs if there’s a defensive lineman within 10 yards of him. Throw in an offensive line that was rebuilt at the start of the season, and has looked every inch a rebuilt OL, and the need to establish the run has come to the fore. It’s something they have been okay at, picking up nice yardage on early downs, and making life that little bit easier for their quarterback.
V5: USF's defense has been susceptible to the short passing game, but sophomore QB Dane Evans has been mistake-prone. Any chance we might see a QB change if the Tulsa passing game doesn't work?
AB: I mentioned Evans’ problems in the last post, and protecting him will be key against a USF pass rush that’s okay (14 sacks). Bearing in mind that an opponent doesn’t need to get to Evans to affect him, I can see Tulsa trying to establish the run, which might be effective as the Bulls have struggled here too, and then get the ball to the outstanding Keevan Lucas. I think Blankenship is sold on Evans for now, but [true freshman] Jabe Burgess has been snapping at his heels since spring camp, but hasn’t played yet.
(Ed. note: Keevan Lucas has 53 receptions for 649 yards and 7 TDs. The rest of the Tulsa team has 91 catches for 1049 yards and 4 TDs. USF might want to guard him.)
V5: What's wrong with Tulsa's defense? They returned 10 of 11 starters, but haven't held an opponent to under 31 points.
AB: I honestly thought the D was going to carry the Hurricane this season, so maybe I’m not the guy to ask (chuckles). Still, the unit actually has its moments. Against the run they’ve been shocking on first down, giving up 922 yards through 6 games, but they’ve only conceded 4 first downs through 12 third and short carries. I think the lesson for opponents there is run on first down. The defense has a solid 41 tackles for loss, but just 8 sacks, so they can get into the backfield. The pass defense has had problems despite a secondary with four starters back. They’ve broken up 20 passes, but have just 3 interceptions, and have been very vulnerable to the long pass, giving up 19 passes of 25 yard or more. If I had to pick one problem, I’d say they lack speed.
V5: Head Coach Bill Blankenship seems to have worn out his welcome. Attendance is down, Tulsa's AD had to issue a statement, and fans have identified a dream replacement in Tulsa native/Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. Can Blankenship survive this season? Can he survive a home loss to USF? (We've gotten better coaches fired.)
AB: The 2012 [C-USA] Coach of the Year is in trouble? I’d well believe it, considering his recruits are starting to pepper the roster. I’m not so sure Tulsa would make a move midseason, but they will look long and hard at him in the offseason. I think, at least on offense, the Hurricane look close to being decent.
V5: These two teams seem evenly matched talent-wise, but are headed in different directions. USF fans are cautiously optimistic after better-than-expected performances against Top 20 teams Wisconsin and East Carolina. Can Tulsa pull the upset (USF is favored by 2)?
AB: I think we can expect to see plenty of Marlon Mack from USF, but I’m not sure White has the wherewithal to take advantage of Tulsa’s secondary. If the Hurricane can sit up close to the line of scrimmage and play the run, they’re good enough to handle it, but if White can open them up with a few shots down the field - advantage Bulls. Tulsa will try and run, and should get some yards, but they don’t have an explosive back outside of Tavarreon Dickerson, but he’s been off the radar since getting injured in September. Keeping Evans clean is the key to this game. I’d take the Tulsa offense over USF’s defense if that is the case.