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September 30, 2011
Searching for positives
After playing three of the nation's top five teams during the first month of the college football season, Tulsa sits at 1-3 heading into a home game against North Texas. Despite its lopsided record, the Golden Hurricane can take several positives away from its first four games.
"There are certainly some gains that we have made," said Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship. "We have a lot better idea about running the football. I think we have been consistent for four weeks and able to move the football on the ground. I think we have been sporadic about where we are in the passing game.
"Offensively, Clay Sears continues to develop as a consistent player at tight end and receiver. I'm pretty pleased with the offensive line coming out of that ball game against Boise State. That's a unit defensively that had eight sacks coming into that game and led the nation in sacks last year. We gave up no sacks, so we are very pleased with that."
However, Blankenship knows the offense isn't operating at the same level as the past few years, and the issues stem from Tulsa starting slow in each game.
"After evaluating the film, again, certainly some of our difficulty falls back on the fact that we are starting slow, especially on offense," said Blankenship. "We have far too many turnovers and have to do a better job of taking care of the football against anybody you play, but certainly against good football teams that take advantage of it."
Still yet, the offense has generated some big plays in the passing game while also making strides on the ground.
"We're getting excellent play from our offensive line," Blankenship described. "We've found running backs that can consistently move the ball and it's not just one. Ja'Terian Douglas had some good runs inside the tackles against Boise State, which was an area where he hasn't done as well at. That's encouraging. Pass protection has been really good."
On defense, the Hurricane has given up a large chunk of yardage to some of the nation's best offenses, but there are still positives on that side of the ball as well.
"We're still getting real good play from Curnelius Arnick, who tallied another 18 tackles (against Boise)," Blankenship explained. "I'm very excited about the way he's playing. Dexter McCoil at safety had a very solid performance. We were excited to see some really good play out of Brentom Todd at defensive end.
"One of the things we have really been needing is a little more pass rush, and we have been trying to get into various personnel groups. One of the things Brentom's play has been doing is allow us to move Cory (Dorris) and Tyrunn (Walker) down inside some to get some matchup issues on the pass rush and that's been very helpful."
Tulsa sits 116th nationally in pass defense at 322 yards per game, but playing Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State causes those numbers to be skewed.
"Three of the four teams we played are not only in the top five, but their offenses are some of the best in the country," said Blankenship. "To really measure where our guys are defensively, it's going to be several weeks before we see. I'm encouraged, but that's measured against three losses, which is tough to explain to people.
"(Against Boise), we're playing against one of the top offenses in the country and held them under their average. As ugly as it felt, it was still better than most people do against them. We continue to see really good play from certain players up front. Curnelius being one and I've already mentioned Dexter.
"The exciting thing is we've been able to do that with a hobbled-up secondary, and I think we'll get a little help next week and get some guys back in the rotation that we've been missing. I'm anxious to see how we will respond and I feel good about it."
In the game's third phase, special teams, senior kicker Kevin Fitzpatrick has been steady.
"Fitzpatrick continues to really shine in his senior year and knocked the ball through the end zone several times on kickoffs and has been consistent not only on game day, but in practice as well," Blankenship added.
The Golden Hurricane now needs to turn those positives into wins as they flip the calendar to October.