Hurricane open at Bowling Green on Thursday night
Tulsa opens the college football season on the road with a 7 p.m. kickoff against Bowling Green, a game on national television on ESPNU.
“Bowling Green is a team that was 8-5 a year ago and was a bowl team,” Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. “Dave Clawson and his guys do an excellent job. These guys know how to play football.”
Bowling Green stood out on defense in 2012 and ranked No. 6 in the nation in total defense (yardage), No. 11 in sacks and No. 10 in scoring defense. They have eight or nine defensive starters returning.
“This is a prolific, pressure defense – not unlike how we played a year ago,” Blankenship said.
Bowling Green also returns as many as nine starters on offense.
“They have a very creative, complex offense,” Blankenship said.
They will use unusual sets and trickery to gain yardage, he said. Bowling Green is led by a fifth-year senior quarterback who rarely makes mistakes.
“This is a very veteran ball club that we are going to have to play on Thursday night,” Blankenship said.
Last season, Bowling Green gave Florida a tough battle, losing 14-27 in Gainesville.
TU had a spirited practice August 22 – just a week before the opener.
“It was a much-improved practice offensively. I thought we were very sharp. We really executed well offensively,” said Blankenship. “Defensively, I think the units are working good. We had a little trouble getting a good look from the scout team. We’re kind of getting thin there. We have to figure out a way to do a better job of looking like Bowling Green.”
“I thought on offense, (quarterback) Cody (Green) showed a lot of leadership today, and was very accurate throwing the football. I just thought all-in-all, the linemen picked up a lot of blitzes, and as a unit there were just a lot fewer missed assignments,” said Blankenship.
After three weeks of preseason camp, the focus shifts to upcoming opponents.
“Now, all the scout team focus is on Bowling Green, and we’re trying to do a good job,” Blankenship said. “They run so well on defense and have all their guys back that it’s tough to get the best look. But our guys worked pretty well today.”
Junior receiver Keyarris Garrett was named to preseason Watch List for The Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award. It is the first year of the award that will be presented after the season to the nation’s college offensive player of the year who meets one or more of the following criteria: (1) Born in Texas; (2) Graduated from a Texas high school; or (3) played at a Texas-based junior college at four-year college. Garrett played his prep football at Daingerfield, Texas.
Blankenship has been preparing his team for the road opener.
Blankenship said true freshman linebacker Devin Rolan, from McAlester High School, has rejoined the Golden Hurricane football team. Rolan participated in summer school and summer conditioning, but elected not report to camp on August 2.
Tulsa has four tight ends who have not seen a game snap at the major college level. “We have four tight ends in our fall camp. Of those, three have four years of eligibility remaining, which is kind of neat. Two of them have been redshirted,” said Blankenship.
Redshirt freshman Tyler Wilson (6-7, 248) is at the top of the depth chart. “Tyler is definitely a step ahead of the other guys, and I think it’s more just because of his year of experience and being redshirted,” said Blankenship. Wilson caught 28 passes for 308 yards as a prep senior at Ponca City High School in 2011.
“But I’ve been very pleased. Garrett McGrady is pushing hard for playing time. I think he can help us,” added Blankenship. McGrady (6-6, 230) enrolled this past January and went through most of spring drills at defensive end before moving to tight end late in spring workouts. As a prep senior McGrady played just five games his senior season at Bethany High School in Yukon, Oklahoma, and as a tight end caught 11 passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns.
The third freshman in the mix at tight end is true frosh Kolton Shindelar (6-6, 252). “Kolton is still in a learning curve, but it’s not hard to see when he is confident what to do, how physical he can be, both running and blocking,” said Blankenship.
The fourth tight end is junior Trevor Toliver (6-0, 249), a walk-on athlete from Sapulpa High School. “Trevor is a young man that switched over from defensive end in the spring, and in his first few practices, has shown some of the same attributes as the other guys,” said Blankenship.
Tight Ends Coach Scott Downing said, “I’m pleased with where they’re at right now. I really love their length and I love their willingness to get after people in the blocking game, because that’s one of our key elements. They’ve got to be an asset in the running game. They’re all starting to show that.”
Blankenship hopes that the tight end position will be more involved in the offense from a pass-catching standpoint as well.
“What we try to do is find a way to get our best 11 on the field that all have a threat. Two seasons ago, Clay Sears was one of those guys that stayed on the field a lot. We had the ability to have Clay as a true tight end and just move him out into the slot, and do other things as a receiver. That’s kind of where we’re envisioning this to go, and I think that Tyler, Kolton and Garrett have the ability to be end-of-the-line tight ends, but also to have enough receiving ability to be a threat when we split them out a little bit,” added Blankenship.
Tulsa may also have junior tight end Charlie Copa (6-5, 264) on-hand this season. Copa, who played in 13 games and started three games last year for the Hurricane, has missed preseason drills with an injury.
Tulsa returns only three starters on the defensive side of the ball in 2013, but coaches have been pleased with the progress of the defense during preseason camp. Tulsa has to replace two starting cornerbacks.
“We have a lot of talent at cornerback,” said Blankenship. “They’ve shown up and played very well. Darnell Walker Jr. has been playing extremely well. He has really solidified himself in the rotation at the boundary corner. Dwight Dobbins has gotten a lot more work at the field corner. Darrell Williams has had to miss a few days of practice, so it’s put him a little behind, but that has given other young guys some quality reps. I really like the group of corners that we have. As a whole, I think you may see three or four of them play a lot. Austin McDaniel has been in the rotation as well.”
Cornerbacks coach Darnell Walker, Sr., sees the progress in this young group of cornerbacks.
“I’m excited about them. They are young guys, and have a lot of energy, but they’re not young anymore. Once you get on the football field, you have to play football.
“We’re just excited about the guys we do have. They’re going to bring a lot of intensity. It’s exciting to see where they were and how far they’ve come now,” said Walker.
Walker Jr. red-shirted last season as a true freshman, but had an outstanding prep career where he totaled 75 tackles and nine interceptions as a senior at Bolivar (Mo.) High School. “I think Little Walk’s (Darnell Walker Jr.) biggest thing is he has some real football savvy. He reads very well, so he gets a big jump on the ball, and he’s fairly physical when he gets there,” said Blankenship.
Tulsa will open the home season on Sept. 7 against the Colorado State Rams.