The Sooners are in T-Town this weekend for their first road trip of the season. While most of us are vaguely familiar with the Tulsa Golden Hurricane the in depth knowledge is left for those who are ardent fans or beat writers. For this reason we bring in the Tulsa World's Kelly Hines to help us get to know Oklahoma's opponent a little better. Hines is the Golden Hurricanes' beat writer for the Tulsa World and was more than gracious to share her insights and opinions with us.
CCM: This is the first time this game has been played in Tulsa since 2007. How much does it mean to the city of Tulsa to have it there and what is the impact on recruiting with this game being up there instead of Norman?
KH: For Tulsa to host a top-five team is a big deal anyway, and obviously there are a ton of OU fans in the Tulsa area. This game will be a sellout or at least close (1,000 tickets remaining as of Thursday), and TU has struggled to fill the 30,000-seat stadium in the past couple of years. Plus the block party on 11th is a cool deal and pretty rare. So there's quite a bit of buzz surrounding this Saturday, helped by how the Hurricane won in dramatic fashion last week. Tulsa is the clear underdog and the chance of an upset is extremely small, but it's kind of exciting for the Oklahoma kids on TU's roster to play the Sooners in Tulsa.
CCM: Bill Blankenship has started that pivotal fourth season at the helm of the Tulsa program where he has his first recruiting class coming up as redshirt juniors and seniors. How important is the 2014 season to Blankenship and what needs to happen for this team to look more like the 2011 & 12 teams as opposed to last year's 3-9 squad?
KH: Bill Blankenship is out to prove last year was an anomaly, just a total collapse of a season that began with so much promise but spiraled out of control as the team dealt with injuries and other issues. He needs his offensive-staff changes to pay off, for starters. But ultimately, he's still the playcaller and how the offense performs falls on him. I wouldn't say he's on the hot seat, but another losing season would get him there. TU is picked to finish last in the American, and I think they can finish in the middle of the pack, near .500, with some luck and some serious progression on offense. That starts with Dane Evans, who has looked so much better already. But we'll see.
CCM: Offensively Tulsa will attack Oklahoma in a much different way than Louisiana Tech did last week. Instead of planning for a guy like Kenneth Dixon Mike Stoops and company will have to worry about Dane Evans connecting to Keevan Lucas. Talk about the altimeter athletes on Tulsa's offense and what they'll try to do against the OU defense on Saturday.
KH: Tulsa has a few good receivers, especially in Keyarris Garrett -- big body, great hands, incredible athletic ability, a matchup nightmare. He missed all but two games last year with a broken leg. Garrett changes everything for opposing defenses, who have to worry about covering him and that opens up other guys, just like what happened with Keevan Lucas against Tulane. Then if teams try to focus on both Garrett and Lucas, TU has guys like Josh Atkinson or Conner Floyd to go to, or even tailback Tavarreon Dickerson, who can catch very well. I don't know how much success Tulsa will have running the ball against OU, so the passing game is the biggest threat.
CCM: On the other side, Tulane averaged 8.5 yards per carry against Tulsa last week. How big of a concern is this Golden Hurricane rush defense heading the game?
KH: Tulsa made Tulane's running back look really good last week. He had runs of 73 and 90 (!!) yards. TU's secondary is actually supposed to be its strong suit, but that wasn't the case against Tulane. I was very surprised there were so many missed tackles. I'm sure that's been a huge focus in practice this week, but I definitely think the run defense is a big-time concern considering how much it struggled against a team like Tulane and now must face a team like Oklahoma.
CCM: Special teams are one of those intangibles that can quickly swing the momentum of a game. How does Tulsa look in the kicking and return games?
KH: Tulsa's placekicker, Carl Salazar, missed his first two attempts Thursday but bounced back to hit his last three, including a career-long 42-yarder (his range typically has been under 35 yards). So that's kind of an unpredictable situation. The return game was very lackluster against Tulane. Demarco Nelson, Tulsa's stud safety, is used at kick and punt returner but other than the game-sealing interception had a rough return last week from academic ineligibility in 2013. I would think he will fare better this week after shaking some of the rust off. TU has other options at returner, but Nelson is probably the best one.
CCM: Prediction time. Tell us how you see this game playing out on Saturday.
KH: I think TU can hang with OU for the first half as long as it avoids turnovers and Evans' passes are on the mark, but the Sooners will pull away in the third quarter. They're just more talented at almost every position. I'll say OU wins 41-17.
You can follow Kelly Hines on Twitter @KellyHinesTW