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September 14, 2013
Game Day: Tulsa takes on #14 Oklahoma
Oklahoma has dominated its series against in-state rival Tulsa through the years, especially lately, having won 11 of the last 12 matchups against the Golden Hurricane.
But Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship knows what it's like to help take a team into a cathedral of college football and emerge a winner, which is what the Golden Hurricane did at Notre Dame in 2010. Results like that are why Blankenship believes Tulsa (1-1) has a chance to knock off No. 14 Oklahoma (2-0) when the teams meet Saturday.
Blankenship - in his third year as the Golden Hurricane's head coach after four years as an assistant - said Tulsa players have assured him they are past the intimidation factor of playing at a major-conference foe.
"That's one of the things you always deal with when you go into one of these kind of places," he said. "We've been to Arkansas, we've been to Notre Dame, to Oklahoma - all those venues just since I've been here as a coach. Most of our players don't see that as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They see it as a great opportunity to play a first-class program and one that could certainly give us notoriety."
Oklahoma's defense and run game has looked solid but the Sooners' passing game has been shaky in beating Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia. The Sooners are well aware that Tulsa - which won 11 games last season - is capable of challenging them.
"They're a pretty good team," Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard said. "They're a team that's going to definitely come in here and play hard. It's a team with a lot of Oklahoma guys that are going to come back here and try and prove something. So we know that we're going to get their best shot."
Here are five things to watch in Tulsa's match-up with Oklahoma:
BLOODLINES: Tulsa's best offensive player, Trey Watts, is the son of former Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts, who led the Sooners to two Orange Bowl wins before embarking on a successful political career that took him to the U.S. House of Representatives for a time. J.C. Watts said he'll be pulling for his son's team this week. Meanwhile, the Alexander family of Tulsa has a rooting interest on both sides - junior defensive end Derrick Alexander plays for the Golden Hurricane, while brother and freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander is on Oklahoma's roster.
LIGHTNING STRIKES THRICE: For the third straight year, Tulsa will play all or most of the season without its top returning receiver. In 2011, Damaris Johnson was suspended before the season began. Last year, Bryan Burnham suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener against Iowa State. Last Saturday, Keyarris Garrett suffered a broken leg in the season's second game, a 30-27 win over Colorado State. Blankenship said Tulsa has a "next man up" attitude about the situation and that he hopes to spread what receptions Garrett would have had among several receivers.
KICKERS AS STANDOUTS: One week after missing his first two collegiate field-goal attempts in a loss to Bowling Green, Tulsa junior Carl Salazar hit all three field goals for the Golden Hurricane in the win over Colorado State, including a 34-yarder as time expired. Oklahoma's kickers have been solid, as Michael Hunnicutt is 5-of-6 on field goals and hit three in the Sooners' 16-7 win over West Virginia, while Nick Hodgson, who handles kickoffs, has had nine of his 12 kickoffs result in touchbacks, including all seven in the season-opening win over Louisiana-Monroe.
QUARTERBACK CAROUSEL: Freshman Trevor Knight, who started as Oklahoma's quarterback the first two games, suffered a bruised knee last Saturday against West Virginia, opening the door for junior Blake Bell to start - after Bell lost a preseason competition to Knight. Also, look for another Oklahoma quarterback, Kendal Thompson, to possibly return in a reserve role after suffering a fractured foot on the first day of preseason practice. If Bell and-or Thompson play well, the Sooners could have a full-blown quarterback controversy on their hands as they prepare for a Sept. 28 game at Notre Dame.
RUN VS. PASS: Oklahoma has rushed for more than 300 yards in consecutive games for the first time since 1997 - two years before Bob Stoops became the Sooners' coach - and those strong efforts have mitigated the team's struggles in effectively passing the football. The Sooners have a deep stable of running backs in Brennan Clay, Damien Williams, Roy Finch and Millard. Will they continue to go with the proven backs or try to jump-start the passing game with Bell, who himself was a short-yardage rushing specialist the past two seasons while backing up Landry Jones?