by Dallas Jackson - 12/08/2005
Tulsa: 8-4 (7-2) 1st C-USA vs. Fresno State: 8-4 (6-2) 3rd WAC
Saturday December 31, 2005 1:00pm
When Tulsa has the ball:
Two words: Garrett Mills. He is always open, and if he isn't they still throw him the ball. The senior tight end from Tulsa set the NCAA mark for receptions and yards by a tight end. In making 83 receptions this season he beat the next closest Tulsa receiver by 56 catches.
Obviously, the favorite target for sophomore gunslinger Paul Smith is the key to the pass offense. Smith, who played as a true freshman and red-shirted last year, completed 62 percent of his passes this season and totaled 2,613 yards and 19 touchdowns versus just six interceptions. Tulsa is a high scoring team, averaging 33.2 points per game, and as much as they like to throw, they love to run. Averaging 162.5 yards per game on the ground behind a big offensive line is the true key to the team.
Once they get the ground game going it opens up the play action and TE drag patterns. The Golden Hurricane have five players with more than three touchdowns on the ground, including eight from leading rusher Uril Parrish.
Fresno needs to re-discover the defense that gave up 12 ppg in their eight wins, and leave the defense that allowed 43 ppg in the last three losses on the west coast. After getting torched by Reggie Bush for 500+ yards, the Bulldogs defense has not come to play each of the past two weeks. They will need to get over themselves and get back to stopping teams the way they did earlier.
The defense is led by ball-hawking junior cornerback Rich Marshall, who led the team in tackles (71), INTs (3), passes defended (11) and fumble recoveries (2). Another Junior, Dwayne Andrews, anchors the front seven at middle linebacker. Andrews, who led the team in tackles last season, was second on the team this year with 61. He also had 6.5 tackles for a loss, which was good for third on the team.
Defensive ends Tyler Clutts and Garrett McIntyre are going to need to be very active in stopping the run and keeping pressure on Paul Smith. The duo has played well most of the season combining for 33.5 tackles for a loss as well as seven sacks each. Excluding the USC game, Fresno did a wonderful stopping the run, and will need to keep Tulsa in check. The secondary is a major strength of this club, allowing less than 200 ypg.
When Fresno State has the ball:
Fresno is well balanced and can score at will. Any team that rolls up 38.9 ppg and more than 400 yard of offense is a tough draw for Tulsa.
Slowing Paul Pinegar will be the key. Pinegar, a fifth-year senior, threw all but 13 of the Bulldogs 400 passes this year, and completed over 60 percent of those throws. He tallied 3,122 yards with 29 touchdowns, but had no true "favorite" target.
The Bulldogs spread the ball around, having nine receivers with more than 10 catches and at least one touchdown each, but no one player has more than 45 catches. Senior RB Wendell Mathis rolled up 1,196 yards rushing and 14 trips to the endzone. The UCLA transfer has given the Bulldogs a reliable option in the running game. Limiting sacks has been strength of Fresno. Putting points on the board early has been a staple of the Fresno State offense as they scored 113 points in the first quarter this season while allowing only 48.
Tulsa will need to continue to be strong on third downs, and get the defense off the field whenever possible. The longer the defense is on the field the worse off the Golden Hurricane will be. The D has been good on third down this season, allowing opponents only 37 percent success.
The Golden Hurricane has faced several tough run teams and has done an adequate job of stopping them but has not seen as dynamic of a pass offense as the one they will face against Fresno. Tulsa will rely on their two young linebackers to control the middle of the field. Sophomore Nelson Coleman and Junior Nick Bunting will have to step up stop the run, and control the middle of the field to guard against slants and crossing routes.
A player worth keeping an eye on in this match-up will be sophomore cornerback Anthony Germany. Germany likes to play close to the line, leading the team in tackles for a loss (13.5), passes defended (6) and forced fumbles (3). He is also third on the team in sacks (3) - this guy plays big, blitzes and covers well.
Tulsa has a big-time kicker in Brad DeVault. DeVault has hit 85 percent this season, making 6 of 6 from 40+, including a 52-yarder. He has a big leg and is incredibly accurate, but has had two extra point misses.
Punting is an interesting situation for Tulsa. Chris Kindred is their punter and has done a decent job in that area, averaging 37.7 yards for the year. However, on three occasions Tulsa has used quarterback Paul Smith to punt and he is averaging 40.7 yards with one fair catch and two punts downed inside the 20. Fresno will have to be aware of quick kicks that can pin them deep in their own territory.
The kick return of Tulsa is outperforming the punt return this season. Tulsa has returned one kickoff for a touchdown and is averaging 22.6 yards per return. Conversely, the punt return team is only averaging 9 yards per return, including a long of 34-yards.
Tulsa does a fantastic job covering kickoffs. The Golden Hurricane kick coverage team is only allowing 16.7 yards per return a long of 34, with no returns for a touchdown. A turn or spark from special teams is more likely to come from Tulsa than against them.
Fresno State understands the importance of putting points on the board, and their kickers are 16-of-19 on the season. The Bulldog kickers have made 10 of their last 11 opportunities, while they have uncharacteristically missed four extra points.
Punter Mike Lingua is the weak spot for the special teams, which is okay, because the Fresno State special teams units is so strong. His punt average is a mere 35.2 yards, but just under half of his punts have been downed inside the 20. He has not had a punted blocked nor returned for a touchdown.
The return game for the Bulldogs has provided a spark on several occasions. Fresno State is averaging 20 yards per punt return, and has taken four punts back for touchdowns. And while they have not returned a kick off for a touchdown, they have a 22-yard average and three returns over 50 yards.
The return coverage is amazing as they allow only 17.6 yards per kick return and have not allowed a return to go the distance. The punt coverage may be better as they have allowed 40 yards on punt returns all season!
Fresno went from a near-miss upset of USC to third place finisher in the WAC. The last two games Fresno has played like a shell of their pre-USC selves.
While already accepting the Liberty Bowl bid, a let down was slightly expected. But back-to-back losses and failing to clinch the conference was not. Pinegar will be the next Fresno State quarterback in the NFL after April's draft, but he would like to go out a winner. Tulsa is somewhat of a surprise team that will look to continue the shocking season versus the Bulldogs.
Both of these teams will make the trip to the eastern time zone for this early starting game. Hopefully the trip wont take too much out of Fresno and they will show up, otherwise this could be a disappointment of a game I actually want to watch.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's football picks service.