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October 25, 2005

Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz

An old Alka-Seltzer jingle came to mind as I left Skelly Stadium on Saturday after watching the Tulsa Golden Hurricane defeat the SMU Mustangs 20-13.

The jingle went, "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz - Oh, what a relief it is!" That described precisely how I felt after watching the two teams battle it out under sometimes sunny skies. It was a game about which I'd been concerned all season.

Gone, for the moment, are the nightmares I suffered last year after losing the overtime thriller to the Ponies at Ford Stadium in Dallas. If you recall, TU was favored in that game -- as they were Saturday.

The difference in this one turned out to be a 66-yard touchdown pass thrown by Paul Smith to a wide-open Garrett Mills for the longest TD throw of the year, thus far. It was a classic play for both, as Smith pump-faked and deked his way around a rushing defender, while Mills ran out his initial pattern and then burst into the clear to accept a perfect toss.

It's what we've come to expect from both.

As opposing coaches review and break down Tulsa's game films, they most certainly design special coverages to slow the phenomenal TU tight end -- don't they? I mean, if a guy has 50 receptions and five touchdowns, he's worthy of some special consideration in my book.

Yet, it is common to see #20 running free somewhere between ten and thirty yards downfield. It is equally common to see the ball spiraling into his hands as he sprints toward the end zone. Maybe, just maybe, if Tulsa had just an ordinary quarterback, you might get by with ordinary coverage on Garrett Mills.

That's not the case, though.

Sophomore starter Paul Smith has now thrown for 1,661 yards and eleven touchdowns, seven of which have gone to Mills. He is averaging 207.6 yards per game with a completion percentage of 61.8 -- not at all average.

Smith is also not your average rusher. In fact, he is the fourth leading rusher for the C-USA West-leading Hurricane, with 167 net yards, even after taking his sack yardage away. Former TU quarterback James Kilian likens him to a "gunfighter" for his quick release and bullet passing.

While Smith and Mills treated us to the play that made the biggest difference in the game, and provided me the greatest relief, we can credit the defense for buttoning up the SMU offense Saturday.

Naturally, middle linebacker Nelson Coleman led the defense against SMU, with a dozen tackles and one big sack. He's making a regular habit out of it, having made 69 stops with three sacks, one fumble forced and two recovered. He's looking to me like a force to be reckoned with for anyone facing TU this year.

Lest you think he's the only linebacker turning in a sensational year, forget it. Chris Chamberlain has been a force this year, and racked up nine smacks against the Mustangs, including one for a loss.

And the guy offensive coordinators design their game plans to beat, Nick Bunting, keeps racking up stop after stop while drawing at least one, often two, offensive blockers.

Today's defensive kudos, though, go once again to free safety Bobby Klinck, who nabbed C-USA Defensive Player of the Week honors. He figured on all three Pony turnovers Saturday, the biggest difference in the two teams statistically. He recovered two fumbles and made a smooth over-the-shoulder catch for the game's only interception. That makes two weeks in a row he's been a difference-maker.

Here's hoping he makes it three.

For those who like to examine the stats to explain how and why one team won and the other lost, this is not the week to do it. Aside from the three turnovers committed by SMU, the stat line is virtually a mirror image. Rather than list all the stats here, I'll just mention that the total yardage for TU was 323 -- to 337 for the Mustangs.

Maybe the lack of disparity between the statistics recorded by these two teams explains why I was so relieved to exit the stadium with another mark in the left hand column. SMU always gives Tulsa one of its best games, and this one was no different.

Hopefully, we can breathe easier for a week or so, until we need to begin worrying about the Miners of UTEP.

Meanwhile, I'm headed to QT for some Alka-Seltzer...

Catbird
catbird@mail.com

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