NORMAN — Oklahoma hosts Tulsa on Sept. 14 in the Sooners’ third game of the 2013 season.
Continuing my blog series with a beat writer from each of OU’s 2013 opponents, Bill Haisten from the Tulsa World was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Golden Hurricane.
You can follow Bill on Twitter @billhaisten.
1. What are the expectations for Tulsa football in 2013?
Even with a rebuilt defense, a bowl appearance in 2013 seems a certainty. Tulsa should be the Conference USA favorite, with a reasonable goal of recording at least 10 wins. Tulsa football standards now are at unprecedented levels. In 2012, the Hurricane reached the 11-win mark for only the second time in program history. TU totaled at least 10 victories in four of the last six seasons. Before 2003, the Golden Hurricane made only 11 bowl appearances. In 2003-12, there were eight bowl appearances.
2. The Golden Hurricane must replace eight starters on defense. How much of a problem does that present, particularly early in the season against a team like Oklahoma?
It’s a tough September for Tulsa, which opens at Bowling Green, follows with a home contest against Colorado State and has two dates with Big 12 opponents (OU and, for the third time in 13 months, Iowa State). Tulsa lost all four starting defensive linemen and both corners. TU seems secure with new coverage guys, so the biggest question mark in the program is how a retooled defensive line will perform. Each of last season’s tackles started in 27 consecutive games, while one end (Cory Dorris) made 51 career starts and another (Jared St. John) had 11.5 sacks as a senior. End Brentom Todd has a chance to be a dynamic pass-rush guy. The X-factor guys are the tackles. A senior from Norman, Jack Jewell hasn’t gotten much meaningful playing time, but he was really good during the spring. Sophomore Derrick Luetjen was used in the rotation last season. Because of a lack of depth, it is critically important that Jewell and Luetjen stay healthy. Outside linebacker Mitchell Osborne was a backup last season, but he was occasionally excellent during the 2012 season and particularly in the Liberty Bowl triumph over Iowa State. He should be an impact defender this season. Tulsa coaches love the potential of cornerbacks Dwight Dobbins, Darnell Walker Jr. and Darrell Williams. Coaching the corners is former Sooner Darnell Walker, Walker Jr.’s father. At strong safety, sophomore Michael Mudoh succeeds Dexter McCoil, who graduated as the TU program’s career leader in interceptions with 18.
3. After a solid season in 2012, how much improvement do you think quarterback Cody Green will make as a senior?
During the first half of the 2012 season, the 6-foot-4 Green weighed 255 pounds and was rusty after having been idle during his 2011 redshirt season. (Green transferred to Tulsa after two seasons at Nebraska.) During the second half of the season (following his recovery from a shoulder separation), he was a more efficient passer and became an effective figure in the run game. At the very least, because the rust is gone, Green should be significantly better in September 2013 than in September 2012. Also, Green reported for spring practice at 242 pounds and looked like a different guy. His mobility was a lot better. He says he’ll be in the 235-240 range when the season begins on Aug. 29 at Bowling Green. Last season, Green led Tulsa to the Conference USA title and an 11-3 record. As a starting college quarterback, he has a career record of 14-3 (4-0 at Nebraska and 10-3 with the Hurricane).
4. How about Trey Watts? What are the expectations for his senior year?
Tulsa has gotten a lot of mileage from tailback Trey Watts, a former walk-on and the son of former OU wishbone quarterback J.C. Watts. Last season, Trey Watts’ biggest plays occurred in the most important games on the schedule. Here is the Tulsa World account of his punt-return TD against Central Florida in the Conference USA championship game: “With 5:06 remaining in the fourth quarter, and with Central Florida leading 27-21, Watts stunned the H.A. Chapman Stadium crowd and the Knights by scoring on a 54-yard, classically ad-libbed punt return. A member of the UCF coverage unit had batted the bouncing ball — but the officials did not blow the play dead. As UCF players were mostly stationary, Watts scooped the ball, benefited from a great block by freshman Derek Patterson and raced down the Tulsa sideline for the score.” The Hurricane went on to prevail in overtime. And during Tulsa’s 31-17 conquest of Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Watts rushed for 148 yards. He was voted the game’s most valuable player. For Watts, reasonable 2013 goals would include 1,200 rushing yards and 350 receiving yards, along with at least a couple of home-run returns. Last season, he averaged nearly 28 yards on kickoff returns. Entering his senior season, Watts’ career numbers include 2,176 rushing yards (5.4 per attempt) and 85 receptions for 757 yards.
5. Where do you think Tulsa’s greatest strengths are as a team, and where do you see potential weaknesses?
As Bill Blankenship enters his third season as the head man, a Tulsa strength is stability within its coaching staff. For the first time since 1995, the entire Hurricane football staff returned intact. A former championship coach at Tulsa’s Union High School, Blankenship already has proven to be a very effective major-college head coach. His two-season record is 19-8. The foundation of any consistently legitimate football program is strong offensive-line play, and Denver Johnson is a nationally respected offensive-line coach. In 14 games last season, the Tulsa line allowed only nine sacks while paving the way for a ground game that averaged 5 yards per attempt and 245.7 yards per game. If there is a potential weakness, it might be on scoring kicks. Last year’s kicker, Daniel Schwarz, has left the program. His apparent successor is an unproven walk-on — Carl Salazar, who played in high school at Broken Arrow and was a Tulsa World All-Metro selection in 2008 and 2009. And, of course, the Hurricane enters the 2013 season with question marks on the defensive line.