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Know the foe: Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship talks about facing OU

by Ryan Sharp Modified: September 2, 2014 at 2:50 pm •  Published: September 2, 2014

Tulsa football coach Bill Blankenship met with the media on Tuesday to preview his team’s game against Oklahoma on Saturday. Here is the transcript of Blankenship’s press conference:

Blankenship’s opening statement: “Certainly we’re getting ready for Oklahoma. Very prestigious program. A lot of tradition. We have great admiration. You don’t grow up in Oklahoma and work here as long as I have in this state and not have great admiration for what they do and what they’ve done. It’s a very good football team. They’re certainly ranked high, but that ranking I think is well deserved if you watch how they play. They completely dominated the game last Saturday and kind of impressive fashion. So we certainly look forward to the opportunity of getting them to come back to Chapman Stadium and get a chance to play at our place. With that, let me take your questions.”

Q: What’s this mean to host this game for the ‑‑ what does it mean to host this game for the University of Tulsa, for the football program.

Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship discusses a call during an NCAA college football game against Rice, Oct. 5, 2013, at Chapman Stadium in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Tulsa World, Tom Gilbert)
Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship discusses a call during an NCAA college football game against Rice, Oct. 5, 2013, at Chapman Stadium in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Tulsa World, Tom Gilbert)

A: I think anytime you can take a top 10 team or top 5 team or in this case, at least as of yesterday, a No. 3 ranked team, and get them to come play, it’s a big deal.

I think the fact that it’s an in‑state school adds to that dynamic. I’ve said over and over again how appreciative I am of the University of Oklahoma for doing the schedule they did with us. They have given us a couple times a three‑game contract, where we go there twice and they come here once. And they’re not afraid to do that.

I think that says a lot about them, but it also gives us that opportunity to host those name opponents at home.

Oklahoma State is I guess you play OU next year, ’17 you play Oklahoma State, Ohio State in ’16. Getting that series with them, with Oklahoma State and getting this series with Oklahoma, getting them to come here and play assures you a sell‑out, assures you of high visibility, maybe a nationally televised game. Is there something, can you maybe describe what’s to be gained from that, just for building the program?

Well, I think, first of all, I don’t have a whole lot to do with the contract negotiations. What I would tell you is Oklahoma ‑‑ this is as I know it the second of two 3‑year deals we had with them because they were here a couple of years ago or back in, what, 2007 I think and we had another contract with them to go.

Honestly, I don’t know our deal with Oklahoma State. I just know that we announced a series with them. I’m not sure how that all works out. But I think it’s a positive thing for us to play. I think we have to do our job on the field to make it a positive thing for a university in terms of a competitive standpoint.

But to have teams that come in and help us sell out the stadium and guarantee the buzz around town is a big deal. This needs to be a venue of destination when we have those kind of opponents, and I think that’s what we seek to do with it.

Coach Stoops was quick to point out yesterday about the respect he has for you and the job you’ve done building this program, from a coach to a coach, when you look at the job he’s done down there, what stands out most to you?

Consistency. If we would have ‑‑ I think a lot of people would have lost a lot of bets had they bet how long Coach Stoops would have stayed when he first came. I remember the day I was at Union High School that he and Mike walked in to recruit. They had just been hired. And I had known both of those gentlemen from their K‑State days.

And we had had some guys be recruited and certainly started developing a relationship with those coaches. But I haven’t seen him change much. I mean, he’s been very diligent and consistent and I think it says a lot about a coach when you see the stability of their coaching staff and the guys that stay with them and you just see a top‑notch first‑class program.

On Saturday you’re probably going to see a full house, but it will be a lot of crimson and cream. How do you feel about that just knowing that sometimes pretty much in the 30,000‑seat half crimson and cream half TU?

Maybe they’ll change their shirt at halftime, who knows.

How do you feel about that?  How do the players feel about that?

You know, if we’re caught looking at the colors in stadium very long, we won’t play very well. I know we have this, we have a contingent, how many will actually be here, I don’t know, that’s interesting. I think there’s more in blue than there used to be.

How much different does the [indiscernible] look for OU. I know they had multiple running backs get significant carries and touchdowns Saturday and Trevor seems to be I guess a year more mature, how different does that offense look?

They’re a little more involved, a little more option game. It’s the new option, if you want to say it that way. A lot of the zone read with quarterback runs and those things where they’re actually blocking. You’re seeing a lot more of the three‑back alignment. That has begun to be very much in vogue the last few years. But I think they’re doing a good job with that. So it allows them to use different backs, utilize the speed and certainly utilize Trevor’s ability to run the football.

When you’re playing against a team that’s heavily favored, you mention that as motivation, or do you even acknowledge it with the team?

You know, if I have to tell them that Oklahoma’s heavily favored, then they probably had a hard time getting into the University of Tulsa. I think academically our guys are a little further along than that. They know what other people think. And that’s not always a bad place to be. Because it matters to you ‑‑ as I shared this before, and again it’s not ‑‑ I’m not trying to hype it up. I’m just telling you, I’m looking for a group of players that don’t care what it says, that will go out and compete. And we can’t focus ‑‑ if we focus on Oklahoma, then we step right into the trap that most people do when they play Oklahoma. We’ve got to be about Tulsa. And if we’ll execute, offense, defense, special teams, we can make it very difficult on them. If we don’t execute, we cannot ‑‑ they are better ‑‑ they are good enough to take advantage of every mistake that we make. And so we don’t need to forfeit our opportunity to win by giving it away.

Back to the running backs how difficult is it to prepare for a team, a game plan when they have the three backs, the main three, do you treat them as kind of one unit, or do you break them down separately and kind of prepare for each one?

I don’t think that ‑‑ and again just the little bit that Coach Guy and I have talked about, we don’t see the uniqueness of a running back that would make you have a different game plan if this guy’s in the game, or if this guy’s in the game. I think the speed and talent is comparable, and I think that they can do ‑‑ certainly if we had multiple games to evaluate maybe we would expect certain plays, but after one game against Louisiana Tech, there’s not a whole lot there, other than they use all of those backs.

What’s your biggest matchup concerns to OU?

Probably me against Bob. Seriously, the matchups across the board, I spent more time looking at their defense.

I think upfront they’re very good upfront. That makes it ‑‑ you always start there. And then I haven’t watched as much of their offense yet. I will spend more time on that as the week goes on. But I think the speed at receivers is certainly a concern.

Can you talk about Garrett Stafford, what his experience brings?

Garrett Stafford is the most experienced offensive lineman we have. He plays a very key position at the left tackle spot.

Garrett’s unique in that he is a very talented young man but he’s also very gifted in a lot of ways. One of the things that gets lost on people that I like to brag about is Garrett was a mid‑year graduate coming out of Memorial High School here in town. Redshirted.

Garrett has two years to play and already completed his engineering degree. So he’s in a masters program of engineering with still two seasons to play. So the guy’s got some stuff going on besides football. But he’s really good in football, too.

What’s that ‑‑ how important is all that going to be going against a defensive line like ‑‑

They give us a lot of looks. We really need smart guys. One thing that Denver does with the offensive line is that we actually teach them concepts of football and how to read the defense, how to see ‑‑ our offensive tackle and a lot of good ones do this, but they’re taught to key the safety. They’re taught to look at the corners, look at the linebackers. It’s not just about blocking their guy, but they have to know what blitzes are coming and how to coordinate that. And so it helps if you have a guy, A, with experience, and B, that is really smart.

Going back to what you were talking about with not getting caught up in playing a program like OU, in your time as head coach, how big of a challenge has that been when you go against bigger named programs?

Well, in my time as head coach, it’s always an issue. I can even go back to my days as a high school coach. I was fortunate to be at one of those programs that a lot of times people played the logo on the side of our helmet more than they played us. And so that’s the thing we try to really focus on is let’s really play those guys. Let’s don’t try to ‑‑ we don’t have to play the 100‑year tradition. We really have to play them. And so if when you ‑‑ and it doesn’t happen very often. But occasionally you’ll find a group of young men that really buy into that, they have enough self‑confidence that they go and do that and you get a few breaks and good things happen.

Talked about matchups earlier, Garrett, (indiscernible), you feel that’s one matchup that you might be able to win that matchup on if they get isolated in space or things like you were trying to do last week against Tulane?

I hope so. Oklahoma does play some man coverage. So we’ll certainly look for those matchups. But you know, Oklahoma’s not Tulane. They’re a little better. But I also feel very proud, very confident in our receiving corps. I think those guys have the ability to make some plays. If we can get the right matchups, I think you’re exactly right. That’s an area we’d want to go to.

This isn’t a knock on Tulane’s defense but the defense that Daniel faced Saturday is significantly thinner ‑‑ with what you saw, can he make the same throws and the same type of throws he made Thursday night and be successful, or does he need to be much improved?

He can. And will he, that’s why we play. The things that he has developed is a quick release, the ability to see the field.

If he will, again, do those things, I think you’ll see that he’ll give us a chance to move the football.

As far as the wide receivers, they have a unit that’s relatively inexperienced. Do you feel like your cornerbacks against wide receivers, an area you might want to take as a possible advantage in this game.

I don’t think it’s an advantage. I think it’s an where we’ve got to rely on our experience. I think from a pure talent standpoint, those guys are very, very talented. And they certainly have the ability. Doesn’t take you long to see them run past guys. Not just Louisiana Tech. But go back and some of those young players played at different times as the year went on last year. So we understand that we’ve got some experience. We’ve got to deal with our experience and try to find an advantage.

And I think if you play your keys and if you play fundamentally sound, that gives you a chance. But, again, if we get caught up in thinking that we’re playing against Tulane, that’s not a good matchup.

Offensively, do you feel like when you go against a team like this, they might be prepared for everything you have going on offense, do you just do the same game plan, say let’s just try to beat them play‑by‑play, or is there a little extra that goes we can give them different looks, maybe for something they’re not expecting?

I think that’s a fair question. You’ve got to be careful not to beat yourself. I’ve dealt with that. But you also have to understand that those guys get coached as well. They’re very good players, smart players, all those kind of things. I think they’re coached extremely well. Their gam plan will take advantage of anything that they know about us. They have every time we’ve played them. With that being said, I know again our defensive and offensive staff will do the best to have somewhat I call some wrinkles, tweaks, hopefully things that look the same that maybe give us a little bit of an advantage.If you’re not doing that in college football, you’re not really going to help your team to progress. So you’ve got to build on it week by week and hopefully be able to make adjustments on the sideline, and that’s one of the other key things.

The short passing game that seemed to be a struggle for you guys last year, Thursday night seemed much improved. Can you talk about what went into that improvement?

A whole lot of commitment of work. There’s just no shortcut for time. I think we all believe that Dane had the ability, the raw ability to do that, but we had to get receivers on the same page. We had to get Dane having confidence that they would be where he thought they would be, and there’s just no shortcut. You’ve got to put time, time. It was just a point of emphasis from spring through fall camp.

And we’re still a work in progress. One game’s not going to mean that we can start patting ourselves on the back that we’ve fixed our passing game. But I think it gives us a little glimpse into what we’re capable of.

To kind of follow along that, with the short passing game, their strength defensively looks to be, filling lanes and getting their hands up, batting balls and getting after the quarterback. How do you ‑‑ you want to do what you’re good at, you want to do, continue to progress like you said, but at the same time there’s a danger of maybe playing into their hands?   

Well, sure. That’s where you always ‑‑ that’s a good question. They understand what they’re giving. I mean, a good defense knows if they’re going to invite you to throw short, that they’ve got to get hands up. They’ve got to get people in the lanes, all those kind of things. So it goes back to, I think, that you look at the Oklahoma defense, they’re very well coached. They take those three interior linemen, the two linebackers, and they say we’re going to control this area and we’re going to get really fast guys and really rangy guys to control all that other area.

So that makes it a very difficult challenge for you to find windows. The thing that was important to us going back to Tulane game, one of the things that was a challenge for us a year ago is that we somewhat overemphasized the short game and didn’t throw the ball down the field. So I think it was important for us to show that we could do both, throw the ball down the field, throw the ball intermediately and in the passing game, that gets it out of your hands quick. So we’ve got to go into the game with that same mentality against Oklahoma. If we don’t attack all three areas of the field in the passing game and still run the ball effectively, we’re going to have a hard time moving the ball consistently, because anytime a good defense can narrow your approach down to only give you one of those areas, you won’t be able to do it very long.

Not too common when brothers get to face off against each other like the Alexander brothers will. Even though they’re not lining up against each other do you say anything where maybe he’s too keyed up or I guess too excited to get out there and play against his brother?

He told me it helped that it happened last year, too. And that certainly his brother was a freshman a year ago. He told me that he was going to hunt him up on special teams, but then they both, I guess when Dominique started playing a little more he’s not playing as much. So that just makes for better Thanksgivings I think.

Are these the kind of games that you give your biggest pep talk before the game or do you usually save that for the end of the year?

I don’t have a lot of big pep talks. You guys should know me better than that. This is one of those games that’s all about opportunity. And if they hear it from me once they’ll hear from me ten times this week, it’s about Tulsa taking care of Tulsa. If we want to have a chance to win this game ‑‑ and I do believe we do ‑‑ we have to play well. And you don’t have to play over your head. So you have to execute your game plan. If you do that, you give yourself a chance and then you’ve got to stay away from all the other things that can hurt you in every game, turnovers, foolish penalties, giving the ball away with missed assignments. Those are the things that a team like Oklahoma can take and that’s snowball starts rolling downhill and that’s what happened to Louisiana Tech.

Any chance for early kick will benefit you?

Sound asleep, we’ll kick it off and leave them in the hotel if that would help.

 

by Ryan Sharp
Senior Assistant Sports Editor
Ryan Sharp is a lifelong Oklahoman but was born in Texas, something he doesn't share too often with his OU- and OSU-loyal friends. Ryan spent a good chunk of his early childhood in southeast Oklahoma, before moving to Shawnee, where he...
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