This just in, the Tulsa offense is pretty good. Has been for awhile. There is no secret as to what is required for this Tulsa squad to be successful in 2011. Offense, offense, offense, some more offense, and of course more cowbell. Despite replacing both their head coach and offensive coordinator, the Tulsa offense will not change from the mad genius Gus Malzahn creation that has brought them so much success the last four years. New head coach Bill Blankenship wisely adopted the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy in an effort to keep this offensive machine rolling. So expect a multitude of formations, crazy gadget plays, and a general unpredictability when the Golden Hurricanes have the ball.
Much like the OU offense will be without one of its dynamic playmakers in Kenny Stills, I doubt I'll be breaking any news by reminding you that the OU defense will be without its unquestioned leader in LB Travis Lewis. Personally I'm of the opinion that while OU will no doubt miss his presence on the field, Lewis missing the Tulsa game isn't necessarily a huge loss. Where I think they miss him the most is in the details, meaning getting the calls in and the little tweaks he inherently knows to make like adjusting the positioning of a fellow teammate before the ball is snapped. Tulsa will (hopefully) be forced to pass in order to move the ball for most the day on Saturday and for as great of a player as Travis has been for OU, dropping into coverage is not the strongest part of his game. Evidenced last year when OU would bring Corey Nelson in on passing downs to play more of the coverage LB spot and allow Lewis to blitz the passer. So unless Tulsa is able to exploit Lewis' absence by running the ball on a consistent basis, I believe the OU defense will able to withstand his unavailability on Saturday.
- OU front seven vs. TU run game
The Tulsa offense returns a very experienced offensive line with returning four of five starters and the fifth, RT Matt Romine, being a Notre Dame transfer. On paper, this looks like a match-up where Tulsa might have the edge considering the believed weakness of the OU defense in the front four. The upside lies in the fact that Tulsa is by no means a dominant run blocking team, so while they will surely try to exploit the middle of the OU d-line it's unlikely that they make it the focus of their game plan. That said, if they are gashing rush yards consistently it stands to reason they probably wouldn't go away from it so it will still be key for OU to try and take away the run early. If they're able to make Tulsa one dimensional, which is exactly what they did two years ago in Norman, they can pin their ears back and get after Kinne in the pass rush. Building confidence in their ability to rush the passer would be huge not just for the season as a whole, but heading into the bye week to prep for FSU.
OU fans will recognize the name Watts as Tulsa will likely start Trey Watts, who is the son of OU alumni J.C. Watts. Cool story in that Watts actually walked on last year, earned the starting gig before getting hurt, and is now on scholarship. Watts, who is 5'11" 200 lbs, will be paired with Ja'Terian Douglas who is a little bit smaller at 180 pounds and more of a home run type threat with his considerable speed. Junior Alex Singleton, 6'1" 250 lbs, will serve as the battering ram in short yardage situations and lead the team in carries last year with 84. 84, yeah that's it. Like I said, not exactly a run heavy offense.
- OU secondary vs. TU pass game
Obviously, if Tulsa is to keep this thing close on Saturday it will be through the air. Talented QB G.J. Kinne is back for what will be his third year in the system and that experience has earned him some trust with his new head coach. Kinne was given the authority to call his own audibles this year rather than having to check with the sideline (what a novel idea). Surely Coach Venables is aware of this fact and will attempt to give Kinne multiple looks pre-snap to try and get him to check into the wrong play thus giving the OU defense an advantage. It will be a game of cat and mouse between the two for most of the day and if Kinne can make the right calls, it could be a long day for an OU defense missing its best player. Keep in mind that Kinne isn't exactly a statue back there either. He actually lead Tulsa in rushing last year with 561 yards, so while he certainly isn't Michael Vick back there he is a viable threat to run or extend the play with his legs.
I HATE when OU plays this type of QB. Let me explain. It's more than just the fact that OU, under Stoops/Venables, has notoriously had trouble defending this kind of QB. What I hate the most about it is, they (meaning the coaches) essentially take away their own pass rush. They'll always have a guy on the edge "spying" the QB rather than actually rushing, so in essence they've just eliminated one of their own guys from the play unless the QB scrambles in his direction. I just feel like they play a very passive style of defense, at least in the pass rush, for the fear of a mobile QB breaking off big runs against them if they get too far up field. Just needed to get that out there. But then again what do I know, I'm just some stupid blogger.
So obviously the big news for this game is the
discount shopping suspension of Tulsa's Damaris Johnson. It's only natural, I mean the guy was just such a huge part of their offense last year (last two years really). Not just in the passing game, but also rushing and certainly on punt/kick returns as well. That's just not a guy you can lose and easily replace, so without question the Tulsa offense will be drastically less explosive without his presence.
However, don't take that to mean that there isn't still a legitimate threat. As good as Johnson has been for Tulsa, the offense's success is designed around multiple threats coming from unique positions all over the field. In an offense this pass happy, you know they have to have a litany of options at WR. Thomas Roberson, Jordan James, Genesis Cole, Ricky Johnson, and Freeman Kelley are just a few of the names you can expect to hear on Saturday.
Fortunately for the Sooners, despite those out there saying otherwise who clearly don't know much about the Sooners this year, the secondary is a strength for the OU defense in 2011. The Sooners will be well equipped to defend the multiple WR looks Tulsa will present. Even before the loss of Johnson, the Sooners looked to be in good shape between Demontre Hurst, Jamell Fleming, Gabe Lynn, and Aaron Colvin they shouldn't have much trouble matching up.
So while the powerful Tulsa offense presents a legitimate threat, given the depth and talent on the OU defensive side of the ball I expect the Sooners to keep them relatively in check. Tulsa is a good test to open things for an OU defense that will have to be ready to play quickly with a big time match-up looming in Week 3. The Sooners would get nothing out of playing an opener against East Handkerchief State or Charleston Southern. I don't expect OU to come out flat for any games this year given what they're playing for (#12) and playing a team like Tulsa eliminates the likelihood of that possibility even more so. The OU defense comes out strong early, gets after Kinne, turns him over multiple times, and looks strong heading into the bye week.