NCAA Football Preview - Tulsa Golden Hurricane
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From The Sports Network By Gregg Xenakes, College Football Staff Writer 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: Back in 2002, the Golden Hurricane produced just one win, forcing the firing of then head coach Keith Burns (now an assistant with San Jose State). Bring in new leader Steve Kragthorpe and the program was new again in 2003, to the tune of eight wins and five losses. After losing back- to-back outings against Minnesota (49-10) and Arkansas (45-13) in routs on the road to start the campaign, Tulsa rattled off three straight wins, one of those coming against Hawaii (27-16). The team also gained some much needed respect with a 27-20 setback against Boise State, one of the nation's top scoring teams, on the road in Idaho no less. Another narrow loss to Nevada (28-21) set up a stretch of five straight wins in Western Athletic Conference play, propelling the Golden Hurricane into the postseason for the first time in 12 years. Tulsa may have gotten blown out by Georgia Tech in the Humanitarian Bowl (again in Boise), but at least the team could brag about having the nation's best turnaround with a seven-win improvement over the previous year. With a 6-2 record against the rest of the WAC the Hurricane tied for second in the standings, which helped to give the squad its first winning season in 11 years. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: Kragthorpe, named Coach of the Year in the Western Athletic Conference, brings back eight starters from a year ago on offense, including surprise quarterback James Kilian. The senior waited for the right moment with the Golden Hurricane before getting his big break last year, one that he took full advantage of, as he threw for 2,217 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2003. Kilian also rushed for 605 yards and seven scores on the ground for the up- and-coming squad. However, even Kilian cannot make up for the loss at running back of Eric Richardson, who posted 12 rushing touchdowns and averaged four and a half yards per attempt. This year junior Uril Parrish (537 yards, five TDs) starts in the backfield for Tulsa, while senior wide receiver Montiese Culton (18.1 yards per catch in 2003) gives the signal-caller another option down the field. On the other side is Jermaine Landrum, also in his senior year, and even though he was not a starter last season, he reeled in 28 balls for the squad. Named to the 2004 Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List, junior tight end Garrett Mills will also garner consideration for the John Mackey Award, recognizing the top player at his position after he led the Hurricane in receptions last year with 53 for 456 yards and 10 scores. Perhaps the best aspect of the offense is that four starters from the front line return to protect the skill players, with juniors victor Mercado and Jesse Stoneham at the guards and sophomore Jeff Perrett at one tackle spot. Senior Derek Warehime at the center spot is the experienced anchor for the group and should provide plenty of guidance for sophomore tackle Aaron Danenhauer, who is being thrown into the fire in just his second campaign. DEFENSE: The defense for Tulsa should also be much improved with nine starters coming on for the 2004 campaign. Seven of the top eight tacklers are back, including the top man at defensive back in Kedrick Alexander. The junior was in on 121 stops for the unit, 30 more than his closest teammate. While that's a tremendous number and appears to be impressive, what it really means is that far too many plays made it past the linebackers. Alexander, the only player with at least two fumble recoveries, also added three interceptions. Joining him in the secondary are Shannon Carter (76 tackles, two forced fumbles), and Clint Roundtree (58 stops), while seniors Oliver Fletcher (team-high four interceptions) and Jermaine Hope (three picks, 12 pass breakups) lock down at the cornerback positions. Linebacker Michael LeDet is one of the field leaders as a senior having made 91 tackles and placing second on the unit in TFLs last season with nine. But while LeDet, who was a second-team All-WAC performer, may be a bit older and wiser, he is still a second-year starter like sophomore Nick Bunting at the position. Bunting, named to the 2004 Watch List for the Rotary Lombardi Award, was the WAC Freshman of the Year after he started 11 games as a true freshman, finishing with 79 tackles. Bunting returned one of his two interceptions for a 12-yard touchdown versus Arkansas State in a 47- point rout at home, proving that he is more than just one dimensional in the middle of the field. SPECIAL TEAMS: Brad DeVault takes on the responsibility of placekicking once again for the Golden Hurricane. Last season the junior led the team in scoring with 76 points, knocking through 49-of-53 on extra-point tries, but only 9-of-16 field-goal attempts. As one of the top punters in the league last year with an average of more than 43 yards per kick, Cort Moffitt is going to be tough to replace, but sophomore Chris Kindred will still try his best. Last year, Kindred punted 25 times and landed seven of those inside the opponent's 20-yard line, which is what Tulsa will be expecting even more of this season. OUTLOOK: Winning so many games for a new head coach last year might have been too much of a good thing. There's going to be a letdown now that everyone is familiar with each other, but just how much of one is tough to tell. With the Golden Hurricane picking Kansas and Oklahoma State to start the season, on the road no less, the team could start sliding right out of the gate. Except for a home game against Boise State on October 16, every matchup versus a WAC opponent is a winnable affair, so the team may be bowl eligible once the smoke clears at the end of November.