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October 25, 2011Tulsa has responded after a tough start to the season, and the Golden Hurricane are in position for a Conference USA title.
The year started out with Tulsa playing three teams that have spent most of the year among the top 10 in the country -- Oklahoma, Boise State and Oklahoma State. Tulsa hasn't had wideout Damaris Johnson all season because of a legal issue, and quarterback G.J. Kinne was hurt in a blowout loss to OSU.
Since then, Tulsa has won three straight games and averaged nearly 40 points per game. Most important, however, is Tulsa's strong start in Conference USA play. The Golden Hurricane are keeping pace with Houston in the league's West Division. Tulsa is above .500 for the first time all season.
After the game, Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship was asked if it had been difficult to get back above .500.
"I hadn't thought about that; I guess that feels good," Blankenship said. "More importantly we're 3-0 in conference play. That's a big deal for us to be able to at least be where we can still control our own destiny."
In the coming week, Tulsa has a big game against SMU, one of the best offensive teams in Conference USA, and one that is coming off a loss to surging Southern Miss.
• Tulsa's offensive line got the game ball for its performance against Rice. The Golden Hurricane didn't allow a sack, and rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns. Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship was pleased with their performance.
"They just kind of like being the old nasties, but they did a great job," Blankenship said. "I just thought the offensive line, not only the sacks, but the drives there late where they knew we had to run it, we knew we had to run it."
• The win against Rice showed the versatility of Tulsa's offense. The game marked the team's third straight with a different 100-yard receiver. Willie Carter had 160 receiving yards, following Bryan Burnham (101) and Clay Sears (105) in recent weeks.
• For the first time in two seasons, Tulsa wore a helmet that wasn't gold. The Golden Hurricane helmets were light blue. In 2009, the team won all three games it played with an alternate helmet.
Keep An Eye On: QB G.J. Kinne -- The Rice game was the quarterback's third straight game in which he passed for at least 300 yards. This is the second straight year that Kinne has had such a streak. He has never had four straight 300-yard passing games.
Looking Good: Turnover differential has been a big problem for Tulsa this season. Tulsa still ranks among the worst teams in the country in total turnover differential, but against Rice, the Golden Hurricane was plus-three in turnovers.
Still Needs Work: Pass defense has been a problem in recent years for Tulsa. Against Rice, the Golden Hurricane allowed fewer passing yards than its season average. But that number was more than what Rice usually puts out. The Owls have one of the worst passing offenses in the country, and they looked productive against Tulsa.
Quote To Note: "Early on in the season, we've been very poor about focusing, certainly last week, on taking care of the football. I thought we did a better job today." -- Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship after the Golden Hurricane's 38-20 win over Rice.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
• LB Curnelius Arnick tabbed double-digit tackles for the fifth time this season. He had 12. Arnick also had an interception on the first Rice pass of the game.
• Willie Carter's 160 receiving yards was a career high. He had a 64-yard touchdown, which was the longest TD pass of the season for Tulsa. Carter's previous high was 135 yards against Oklahoma.
• Kicker Kevin Fitzpatrick hit a career-long 52-yard field goal. He also missed his first field goal attempt of the season.
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