Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
ARKANSAS VS. TULSA:
Hurricane (7-1) hover on Hogs’ homecoming
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas lost its head coach, its national standing with four consecutive losses, a selection of talented players to injuries and four games in front of the home fans this season.
The Razorbacks (3-5) would like to end their season-long stumble today against red-hot Tulsa.
Arkansas hosts the Golden Hurricane (7-1) at 11:21 a.m. for homecoming. Tulsa has won seven games in a row since losing to its only other BCS conference foe, Iowa State, 38-23 in its season opener.
The Razorbacks thought they were back on track after consecutive victories over Auburn and Kentucky, but Ole Miss dealt them another home loss in Little Rock last week.
“We talk a lot about our turf and we talk about defending this territory, our stadium,our house, our home, all of the above,” Arkansas Coach John L. Smith said. “You don’t let somebody come into your house and ... you know what I mean?”
Tulsa, under second-year Coach Bill Blankenship, has won as a guest twice this season, at Alabama-Birmingham and Marshall, but the Golden Hurricane have lost 17 in a row to Arkansas, going back to when Blankenship was a redshirt freshman at Tulsa in 1976.
A victory over Arkansas today “would mean a lot more to people who have been around Tulsa for a long time,” Blankenship said. “To guys my age, it’s certainly very meaningful. ... To the players on my team, it would be a significant win over a significant program.”
Tulsa, which has a 1 1/2-game lead in Conference USA’s West Division, has not pushed into Bowl Championship Series contention since the BCS began in 1998, but Blankenship said the Golden Hurricane are following the blueprint developed by Boise State and TCU, similar programs that have enjoyed success in the BCS.
“To get to that point, you had to get to the point where it wasn’t an unusual day for Boise State and TCU to win those games,” Blankenship said. “That’s where we’ve got to get to. We’re not there yet.”
Arkansas, which defeated a ranked Tulsa team 30-23 in their last meeting here in 2008, knows the Hurricane are potent.
“They’re going to be ready to play,” said Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, who was briefly committed to Tulsa in the fall of 2007. “They’re going to want to come over here and get a win as much as we do, so look forward to it.”
Tulsa has the nation’s No. 9 rushing offense, Alex Singleton, Ja’Terian Douglas and Trey Watts helping amass 248.8 yards per game on the ground. Run stopping is the strength of the Arkansas defense, which ranks No. 86 overall. But is No. 30 against the run, allowing 123.4 rushing yards per game.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for our guys,” Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said of slowing Tulsa’s running attack. “But we’ve also got to do a good job on the pass. A lot of times when you sit there and try to focus so much on stopping the run ... they have a breakout game throwing the football.”
Rutgers, known more for its running and defense, clearly pulled off that feat by passing for 397 yards and five touchdowns in a 35-26 victory over the Razorbacks on Sept. 22.
Defensively, Tulsa leads the country with 35 sacks, but the Golden Hurricane have shown a vulnerability against the pass, ranking No. 95 with 261.6 yards allowed per game and No. 75 in pass efficiency defense.
The Tulsa back seven, led by linebacker DeAundre Brown and safety Dexter McCoil, will be matched up against one of the nation’s most potent passing attacks. Wilson ranks No. 6 with 322passing yards per game, and his top target, Cobi Hamilton, is No. 10 with 7.25 catches and 112.5 receiving yards per game.
Tulsa cornerback Lowell Rose said he likes the idea of facing Wilson.
“Any time you get to go up against someone that is slated to be a top [NFL] draft pick it is exciting,” he said. “He has scouts talking about him. As a defense, we see it as an opportunity to make a big name for ourselves and have a good performance against this guy.”
Hamilton, who is averaging 9.6 receptions for 155 yards in his past five games, noted the Hurricane have three seniors and a junior starting in their secondary.
“You know they’ve got a lot of experienced guys out there and they’ve probably made a lot of plays during their careers, so they’ll be expecting to play well and to compete,” Hamilton said.
Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said Tulsa has gotten a lot of its sacks by luring opponents into not using audibles at the line, as well as second effort and solid coverage.
“And some have been because they have a big lead and they’ve gotten people to throw the ball so much and they’ve gotten a lot of sacks,” Petrino said.
Tulsa at Arkansas WHEN 11:21 a.m.
today WHERE Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000), Fayetteville RECORDS Arkansas 3-5;
Tulsa 7-1 RANKINGS Both teams are unranked BETTING LINE Arkansas by 8 1/2 points COACHES Bill Blankenship (15-6 in second year at Tulsa and overall); John L. Smith (3-5 in first year at Arkansas, 135-91 in 19th year overall) SERIES According to Arkansas’ records, the Razorbacks lead the series 53-15-3. Tulsa records list the series as 52-16-3.
TELEVISION SEC Network
RADIO Razorbacks Sports Network,
including KABZ-FM,103.7, in Little Rock, and KQSM-FM, 92.1, KEZA-FM, 107.9, KUOA-AM, 1290 and KUOA-FM, 105.3, in Fayetteville; XM-Radio 198, Sirius 137
Sports, Pages 19 on 11/03/2012