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October 18, 2006

TU in good shape at mid-season

Most people's early school experience included repetitions of subject matter on a blackboard in the front of the classroom. The teacher would write assignments, notifications of deadline dates, or other important information on the blackboard to remind the class or explain in picture form some part of the subject matter.

At the appointed time classes ended for the day, the blackboard, or slate, was wiped clean. It's the same with football seasons.

After twelve (thirteen for bowl teams) games, the records get wiped clean and everyone is back to undefeated (0-0). This is supposed to be true of player memories, wiped clean and focus on the next season. Sometimes, it is beneficial to go back to the old blackboard of last season and see how this year is playing out.

Halfway through a twelve game season, Tulsa football is ahead of last year's bowl season in several aspects.

After this year's game six versus East Carolina, Tulsa stands 5-1. Last year after game six, against Southern Miss, Tulsa was 3-3. Starting out with Minnesota and Laurence Maroney, then Oklahoma and Adrian Peterson didn't help the record, but toughened a defense that would eventually be one of the best in the league.

In 2005, Paul Smith threw for nine touchdowns through six games and ran for four more. This year, those same numbers are ten and three.

In 2005, Tulsa's rushing attack featured four or five players not named Smith gaining 888 yards. Through last Saturday's dismantling of East Carolina, eight different players (no Smiths added) had racked up 847 yards.

At this time last season, Tulsa's leading rusher was Uril Parrish with 350 yards, 4.4 yards per shot. This year, the rushing leader is Courtney Tennial with 329 yards and a 5.3 average per carry. In 2005, Paul Smith had 57 rushing attempts for 130 yards. This year through six games, he's taken off 40 times, gaining 170 yards.

This year, Tulsa is winning the scoring battle 76 to 44 in the first half. Last year, thanks to first half salvo's by Minnesota and Houston, as well as a near draw with Oklahoma, Tulsa was outscored in the opening half 80 to 69. Second half adjustments led to a 104-72 advantage for the Hurricane in 2005. This year, that advantage is 96-54.

Last season through six games, Tulsa generated 2,369 yards of total offense. In 2006, the offense has piled up 2,480 yards of total offense over the same number of games. Passing yardage is about the same at 1,400+ yards both years. This year's Hurricane infantry has run the ball for 1,028 yards compared to 963 yards after six games in 2005.

It can never be said that Garrett Mills is not missed, but from the above thumbnail sketch, it appears that the burden of his absence has been shouldered successfully. Without the graduated Mills, Uril Parrish, Richard McQuillar and Jesse Stoneham, the offense is still clicking along as it was during last year's bowl season.

On the defensive side of the ball, Tulsa is behind last year's six game totals in sacks and interceptions. It has deflected the same number of passes in both years (18), or three per game.

The 2006 defense returned seven of the top ten 2005 statistical leaders on sacks, tackles for loss, overall tackles and interceptions. Added to those returnees were Kedrick Alexander, Alain Karatepeyan, a healthy Steve Craver and Kinny Spotwood. Add to that the potential of Jeph McAlester and Mike Bryan.

Tulsa's athletic moniker implies impending storm clouds. The offense routinely adjusts and scores more points in the second half than the first half, and this year is holding opponents scoring to seven points fewer points per game (16 compared to 23 per game in 2005). Opponents face a second half forecast that is at best cloudy, at worst (for them) dark and forbidding.

Head Coach Steve Kragthorpe stresses improvement game by game. At his weekly press conference, he responded to a question about the defensive improvement since the BYU game.

"Well, I hope so because we've played more games," he quipped. "As a team, you want to improve every time we go out there. We are a better offense, a better defense, and a better special teams than we were at that point in time. If we're not, then I am not doing my job."

Tulsa starts the second half of the 2006 season in better shape than it was in during the 2005 championship/bowl year. Kragthorpe doesn't want to focus on a hoped for conclusion, which means ignoring the BCS rankings.

"It doesn't matter to us," he said. "It's where you finish. It's not where you start or where you are at in the middle of the season, it's where you finish. You know how I am on the polls. I really don't take a lot of stock in those. No disrespect to the people that vote in the polls because I am one of the voters, but I'll be honest, I haven't watched every team that I have voted for this year."

"A lot of it is speculation and hypothesizing at this point in time. With my job, I don't have time to see all the teams in the top 25. It's all just conjecture. Did this team beat that team, and how much did this team beat this team by. Let's just go play football."

The 2005 slate may have been wiped clean, but Tulsa just playing football is going to be tough on the next six opponents, given where the team sits now.


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