Know Your Enemy: The Tulsa Golden Hurricane Are at Category 5

I have no doubt that the UTEP Miners have the talent to beat the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Saturday.  Yes, Tulsa has been playing good football over the last month.  The Hurricane are riding a four game winning streak that includes a win at Notre Dame and perhaps more impressively, a win at Houston.  Tulsa's offense is perhaps the best of all the elite offenses in the C-USA but the Hurricane aren't by any means unbeatable.  Don't forget that Tulsa's offense was grounded by SMU in a 21-18 loss.  

The UTEP Miner team that beat that same SMU squad can beat Tulsa. But to do it, the Miners will have to exploit Tulsa's biggest weakness, their pass defense, and do something they haven't done since October 4, 2008:  win a C-USA Road Game.

The Tale of the Tape:  Offense

G.J. Kinne is playing really, really good football right now.  The quarterback has passed for 2,576 yards with 22 touchdowns against only 8 interceptions.  Yes, he's passing the ball at the best level he has in his career.  But, that's not what should scare Miner fans.  Kinne has also become one of the best rushing quarterbacks in the nation.  He leads TU with over 500 yards on the ground and averages 4.0 yards per carry.

Remember what the normally slow-footed Ryan Mallett did against UTEP rushing the ball?  Kinne is a much more dangerous runner than Mallett ever will be.  Kinne's top weapon is teammate WR/RB/KR Damaris Johnson.  Johnson is an electric player.  I'll simply say that he's every bit as dangerous with the ball in his hands as UTEP's own Donald Buckram, but he's further along in the receiving game than McClure is right now.

Johnson is TU's leading receiver (43/588/3 TD's) and third leading rusher (38/362/4 TD).  That's 9.5 yards per rush.  In the passing and ground game, Damaris Johnson gets an average of 11.7 yards every time he touches the ball.  Let's just say that Travaun Nixon will have his hands full this week.  Johnson is Tulsa's most dangerous player and might be the most dangerous weapon in all of the C-USA.

Take a Look at how Tulsa's and UTEP's offensive numbers contrast.  Tulsa is ranked in the top 25 in the nation in each of these key offensive categories and have hte nations 11th ranked scoring offense and 10th ranked total offense.  Tulsa, offensively, is every bit as good as Houston was with Case Keenum.  The Hurricane don't have the weapons at running back and the depth we saw against Arkansas, but in the C-USA, TU can hang 50 on anybody.  That's the plain truth.  And, Tulsa is 3rd in the nation in turnover margin to boot.

UTEP Ranks Tulsa Ranks
Total Offense 371.73 9 (67th) 486.5 1 (10th)
Pass Offense 228.91 8 (57th) 267.9 4 (24th)
Rush Offense 142.8 7 (77th) 218.6 1 (15th)
Scoring Offense 26 9 (72nd) 38.9 2 (11)
Turnover Margin -0.36 6 (85th) 1.3 1 (3rd)

 

The Tale of the Tape:  Defense

Some might see Tulsa's 4 game winning streak, see UTEP's 1-4 record in their last five, and think that these two teams are simply headed in different directions and Tulsa will roll over the Miners.  That's not the case.  There is a chink in TU's armor.  Let's make it a gaping hole.  And the weakness is Tulsa's pass defense.  The Hurricane are giving up a whopping 315 yards per game in the air.  That ranks dead last in the C-USA and dead last in the nation. Tulsa may be first in the league with 17 interceptions forced, but surely the picks are somewhat related to the fact that opposing teams know they can pass Tulsa to death. 

In the secondary, Tulsa is led by 6'4 sophomore free safety Dexter McCoil and freshman Marco Nelson.  McCoil has four interceptions on the season.  Nelson is a lock to be an all C-USA Freshman selection as he has a staggering 6 interceptions and is also tied for third on the team in tackles (63).  Tulsa will show every Miner's favorite defensive scheme, the 3-3-5, often which leaves them susceptible to a big play receiver who can dominate in man to man coverage (all eyes on Kris Adams).  

Here are Tulsa's defensive numbers as compared to UTEP's defense.  Note that even after the Arkansas game, UTEP is still in the top half of the league in almost every significant defensive statistic.  Also, note that UTEP's defense is second in the league in scoring defense.  In the game threads, we often lament the 'bend but don't break' mindset Andre Patterson has fostered.  But, it's working. The Miners surrender a lot of yards but not a lot of points.  The defense is routinely putting the offense in position to win games late.  

This game should be similar to the Tulane, Marshall, and UAB games in that I think UTEP will have a chance to win if the offense can make some plays in the second half.  I know Tulsa will move the ball, but this game will ultimately be decided on how UTEP's offense moves the ball in the air.  If Trevor Vittatoe and Marlon McClure and company can exploit Tulsa's vulnerable pass defense, this one should be anybody's ball game in the fourth.  

UTEP Ranks Tulsa Ranks
Total Defense 391.55 4 (77th) 438.5 9 (108th)
Pass Defense 213.73 6 (60th) 315.7 12 (120th)
Rush Defense 177.82 8 (87th) 122.8 3 (22nd)
Scoring Defense 24.91 2 (58th) 28.1 5 (75th)
Sacks 1.09 12th in C-USA 1.9 4th in C-USA
Interceptions 9 5th in C-USA 17 1st in C-USA
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