All rights reserved.
View the Mobile Alpha version of this page.
About four months ago when Conference USA had its
football media day in Dallas, the league coaches made Tulsa a unanimous
choice to win the West Division.
Going into Saturday's matchup with East Carolina, the
coaches' pick to capture the East Division, the Golden Hurricane has
fallen well short of those expectations.
Tulsa is 2-6 overall and 1-3 in C-USA.
The defending Conference USA champions are coming off a
34-15 homecoming loss to Texas-San Antonio after trailing 24-0 at the
Coach Bill Blankenship apologized to the fan base in his
A season-opening 34-7 loss at Bowling Green indicated
that there might be some dropoff from a team that went 11-3 in 2012.
The Falcons loaded the box and Tulsa couldn't get it done
with their passing game.
The Golden Hurricane regrouped for a 30-27 win over
Colorado State, but three straight losses to Oklahoma (51-20), Iowa
State (38-21) and Rice (30-27, OT) ensued.
Tulsa beat Texas-El Paso 34-20 but fell 14-7 at Tulane
after an open date prior to last week's loss.
The Golden Hurricane only had three returning starters on
defense from the team that went 7-1 in C-USA and beat Central Florida
33-27 in overtime for last season's league title.
Tulsa beat Iowa State 31-17 in the Liberty Bowl last
year, avenging a season-opening 38-23 loss to the Cyclones.
Tulsa was second last season in scoring defense in C-USA,
allowing an average of 23.6 points per game.
This year, opponents are averaging 31.0 points against
the Golden Hurricane.
Turnovers are another factor contributing to diminished
performance. A year ago, Tulsa was a plus-three for the season on
turnovers. This year, the turnover margin is at minus-10, which ranks
13th and next to last in C-USA.
Four turnovers against UTSA proved costly.
"Football is a funny game," Blankenship said this week.
"Sometimes, you can look at statistics way too much. The irony of it
(loss to Texas-San Antonio) is we had more first downs than they did.
Offensive yardage was about the same. Our defense versus their offense —
they were 3-of-12 on third downs. We were 9-of-20. Usually, third downs
are a big tell-tale statistic. We were 2-of-3 on fourth downs. But the
key — as we talk about always — how deadly are turnovers? How deadly is
the hidden yardage involved with those turnovers? That's the biggie.
"I don't have the pixie
dust to fix that. We're certainly working on it. We're doing the drills.
We're making it a point of emphasis."
Coaches have similar backgrounds
Blankenship and ECU's
Ruffin McNeill are both coaching at their alma maters. Blankenship, a
quarterback in his playing days, graduated Tulsa in 1979. McNeill, a
defensive back for the Pirates, received his degree in 1980.
USA Today reported
salaries for most of the coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision
recently. McNeill is earning $1.15 million while Blankenship's annual
compensation is $619,549.
The fact that both
coaches played in the programs they now coach gives them a unique
relationship to their schools, one that most college coaches don't have.
McNeill has said
repeatedly that the post at ECU is not a stepping stone for him. He's
not looking to leave for more money elsewhere.
He is 25-19 as the
Pirates head coach in three-plus seasons and will make his third
postseason trip in four seasons this year.
ECU improved to 6-2
overall and 4-1 in C-USA with
a 34-13 win at Florida International last week,
becoming bowl eligible in the process.
The Pirates can take
another step toward their goal of a league title against the Golden
"Having a sustained
focus is what I've talked to them about on their assignments and
fundamentals," McNeill said when asked what would be important to get a
win in Saturday's 3:45 p.m. contest. "We need a great week of
preparation. The fundamental part of me never leaves. Making sure we
tackle great, block great, great footwork and body position, those
"We need to play fast,
smart, confident and take advantage of our opportunities. We need to
understand that we're going to get Tulsa's best shot."
McNeill is looking
forward to the supportive environment that accompanied his first win as
ECU coach by a 51-49 margin in the season opener in 2010 when
Dominique Davis hit Justin Jones with a
touchdown pass as time expired.
"I'm glad to be back in
Dowdy-Ficklen, I'll be honest," McNeill said. "It seems like a long time
since we've been home. I'm looking forward to it."
The Pirates have played
just one game at home since Sept. 14,
a 55-14 conquest of Southern Miss
on Oct. 19.
Garrard among inductees
Former football coach
Steve Logan and one of his top quarterbacks, David Garrard, are
scheduled to be recognized at halftime of the Tulsa game as new members
of the ECU hall of fame.
Logan was 69-58 in 11
seasons at ECU from 1992-2002. He has the most wins of any Pirates
Coincidentally, Logan is
a graduate of Tulsa.
Garrard recently came
out of retirement to sign with the New York Jets.
As fate would have it,
the Jets have an open date on ECU's hall of fame weekend.
starts Friday night
There will be a lot of
new players in the East Carolina rotation when the Pirates open the
2013-14 basketball season at home on Friday at 8 p.m. against North
ECU lost four of its top
five scorers from the team that
went 23-12 and won the CollegeInsiders.com
Tournament last April.
Richmond leads the returning corps. He averaged 10.9 points and hit the
game winner from behind the arc at the buzzer in
a 77-74 at Weber State for the CIT title.
Prince Williams, Paris
Roberts-Campbell, Michael Zangari and Marshall Guilmette will have
expanded roles for coach Jeff Lebo this season.
There also will be
significant activity with the baseball program this weekend with the
Purple-Gold World Series.
The first of three
nine-inning games starts this evening at 5:15 p.m.
Game two is Friday at
5:15 p.m. and game three is Sunday at 1 p.m.
Admission is free.
The Pirates will have
considerably more pitching experience in 2014 as compared to last
season. This will be ECU's final campaign in C-USA.