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:
Golden Hurricane out to boost stock
Tulsa’s rushing offense ranks ninth nationally with an average of 248.8 yards a game, led by Ja’Terian Douglas (25). Douglas has 702 yards and has three 100-yard games this season.
FAYETTEVILLE Bill Blankenship sat in the stands at Razorback Stadium as a redshirting freshman quarterback when Tulsa upset Coach Frank Broyles’ final Arkansas team 9-3 on Sept. 25, 1976.
Blankenship will have a much better view Saturday when Tulsa tries to end a 17-game losing streak to Arkansas and spoil the Razorbacks’ 11:21 a.m. homecoming game.
The second-year Tulsa head coach is hoping to lead the Golden Hurricane to their first victory over Arkansas since that long-ago game during the U.S. bicentennial year.
“A bunch of us went over and had tickets,” Blankenship said Tuesday, recalling the upset of the No. 12 Razorbacks. “I was celebrating probably more than I would have been on the sideline.”
Tulsa will take a 7-1 record into Saturday’s game, which the Hurricane see as a potential propulsion toward the greater goal of competing for Bowl Championship Series inclusion.
“There’s no doubt, for our program to get to the level we’re trying to achieve, we have to win this kind of game,” Blankenship said. “Until we can consistently win against those upper-level conference teams, we haven’t achieved the level of reputation that we’re looking for.”
Tulsa’s only loss this season was by two touchdowns, 38-23, at Iowa State in the season opener.
Blankenship, 55, became head coach at Tulsa on Jan. 14, 2011, after a four-year tenure as an assistant at his alma mater and 23 years as a coach in the Oklahoma high school ranks.
A Spiro, Okla., native who was born in Fort Smith, Blankenship beat out Garrick Mc-Gee, then the Arkansas offensive coordinator, for the Tulsa head coaching job.
The Golden Hurricane have a 51-23 record since Blankenship rejoined Tulsa as receivers coach in 2007.
“There’s a reason they’ve won a lot of football games,” said Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, a one-time commitment to Tulsa in the fall of 2007. “It’s been a place where they’re extremely prideful. Football is big over there. It means a lot.”
Tulsa will be an underdog for the first time this season Saturday. Arkansas, which has a 1-2 record in nonconference games this season, is a sevenpoint favorite.
Arkansas Coach John L. Smith has first-hand experience at the type of mentality the Golden Hurricane are likely to have. When he was head coach at Louisville in 1998-2002, Smith fought for respect in the same state as archrival Kentucky.
He called it the “big brother syndrome” at his Monday news conference.
“That’s what they have to think,” Smith said. “That’s what they have to sell is that Arkansas comes over here, they recruit our players, yeah, and we’re going to get even.
“That’s what I’d be selling to our guys: ‘See those guys down the road? Let’s go get after them. We’re as good as they are.’ You know that’s what they’re talking, and they’re going to get fired up and play.”
Tulsa leads the nation in sacks with an average of 4.38 per game, led by linebacker DeAundre Brown with eight and defensive end Jared St. John with seven. The Golden Hurricane are second nationally with 9.38 tackles for loss per game.
Tulsa has averaged 41.9 points per game since the season opener, the lowest total coming in a 27-26 victory over Fresno State on Sept. 22. The Hurricane are 16th in the NCAA in scoring (39.5 ppg), ninth in rushing with 248.8 yards per game and 28th in total offense (457.8 ppg).
Not since the Alabama game have the Razorbacks seen a rushing game with as many standouts as Tulsa has. The Hurricane have three players ranked among the top 10 in Conference USA rushing, and all of them have run for 1,000 yards or more in their careers.
Junior Ja’Terian Douglas leads the way with 702 yards and six touchdowns. Douglas (25) had 100-yard games against Nicholls State, Texas-El Paso and Rice, with a high of 169 yards on 17 carries in Tulsa’s 28-24 victory over the Owls on Oct. 20.
Sports, Pages 21 on 10/31/2012