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October 23, 2013

Can Tulsa continue to dominate Tulane?

For Tulsa to stay in the championship hunt, the Hurricane needs a victory at Tulane on Saturday. The Green Wave is 3-0 in conference play and looking to "dethrone the champ" according to their head coach, Curtis Johnson.

"I still think that we have to play very, very well to play Tulsa," said Johnson. "You have to understand one thing about a program like Tulsa: you're not going to knock their confidence down. They're not going to give up. They're just going to continue to play and play and play. We have to match their intensity.

"They feel that they are the champions of the league. We have to go in and we have to dethrone the champ. The champion always has a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. We have to play outstanding to play with this team. This team is a very good football team. They have a lot of guys back from last year's team. Again, we have to play very, very good, and they have to give up some stuff."

Tulane is on a three-game winning streak with a 5-2 overall record. Coach Johnson is trying to keep his team level headed going into this weekend's game. Tulsa is 2-4 overall and 1-1 in C-USA play, but Johnson says TU is still one of the top teams in the league.

"We haven't beaten Tulsa since 1968. It's a team that's going to be tough for us," he explained. "They're big. They're physical. They have what we call the 'it' factor in this league. They're one of those flagship teams in the league that you have to play well against to stay in the game with them.

"Coach Blankenship does a phenomenal job running the football. They're going to try and run the ball on us. We've got to play good defense and use some eight-man front stuff in order to stay with them. Their special teams are outstanding, and offensively they can move the ball. They're going to run it, so we're going to have to match their intensity."

Tulsa has dominated the series with Tulane. The Hurricane has won all eight games since 2005, and Tulane's only win in the series was 45 years ago. In Tulsa's eight wins over the Wave, the average score was 43-12, and TU always looked like the bigger, stronger and more athletic team. This weekend's game should show whether or not that is still the case.

"I don't really know how much we've made up ground athletically," said the Tulane coach. "I just feel that we're a little better prepared than a year ago. They still have a big gap. They're bigger. They're physical. They're kids have been in their program for up to four years. It's only been a year and a half that we've really been together. What our guys are doing in this little amount of time is special to me, but (Tulsa) is still talented.

"They've still have Trey Watts. They've still got the big offensive line. They've still got those good receives. We just have to go out there and play our game. We have to stop the running game. We have to move the ball, rush the quarterback and make some throws that will help us win."

Tulsa is likely preparing for two different quarterbacks this week, as Tulane is facing uncertainty at that position. Starter Nick Montana has been battling injury, and backup Devin Powell led the Green Wave to an overtime win at home against East Carolina.

"I don't know if (Montana) will play or not," said Johnson. "We're counting on him to play, but he's on a snap count of about 40 throws. He's upping it every time. It's his arm strength that we've got to get back going. He looked pretty decent on what he was doing today. It's a decision of whether you do or you don't. Do you risk getting him hurt again, or do you say 'okay, leave him out and give him another week to rest.'

"There is always a risk of injury. I look over and see his dad. His dad sometimes gives me the 'yay' and sometimes he gives me the 'no'. We're going to play him when we feel that he's healthy enough and when he can help the team as much as he can."

Tulsa may have to face both quarterbacks this weekend, as both Montana and Powell are getting reps in practice.

"We're practicing both of those guys," said Coach Johnson. "I just want to know what they can do. We just have to figure out who can do what and who gives us the best chance to win without anyone getting hurt anymore."

The Hurricane will need to start fast and get points on the board early, as Tulane hopes to make Tulsa play from behind and force mistakes in the passing game.

"If we can come out, establish some stuff, win the time of possession and make them play from behind a little bit, I think our secondary is very opportunistic and I think we'll play well," said Johnson.

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