John Klein: State teams face crucial first month
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Monday, August 29, 2011
8/29/11 at 5:56 AM
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We'll know just about everything we need to know about Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tulsa by Oct. 1.
The three state schools face different but equally important challenges in September.
OU and OSU can't win the Big 12 Conference in September, but could do plenty of damage to themselves in the league by losing within the first month of the season.
Two of the most important Big 12 games will be played on Sept. 24, when Missouri visits Norman and OSU goes to Texas A&M.
Before the league games start, Oklahoma has a trip to Florida State, a top-10 team, and OSU plays host to Arizona, a team many believe could challenge in the Pac-12.
Nobody in the state, actually nobody in the country, plays a more difficult September schedule than Tulsa.
The Golden Hurricane, considered one of the favorites in the Conference USA race, play three top 10 teams in the first four weeks - OU, OSU and Boise State. If that isn't enough, TU also plays a conference road game in the first month.
That's why August has been so important in this state. OU, OSU and TU have no room for error.
The three state schools have to come out of the gate quickly, and can't risk a stumble. There is no time to tinker with the offense or look for answers on defense.
All three schools need to come out in high gear if they hope to fulfill the dreams of their fans.
"We just aren't hitting much 10 days out from the first game," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "We wouldn't hit much 10 days out from the fourth game, so why risk it.
"We're coming out of camp very healthy, and that is a great thing with our early schedule."
TU coach Bill Blakenship considers the urgency a good thing for his team.
"That's the advantage," Blankenship said. "That's something I shared over and over. One thing that gave me a little peace is knowing that we have an experienced squad. That experience paid dividends.
"There are no shortcuts to playing games, getting games and getting in the action."
Getting in the action won't be delayed for the Golden Hurricane. TU is jumping right into the deep end of the pool from the start.
Oklahoma is ranked No. 1 and has lost just twice at home since 1999.
Yes, Oklahoma State and Boise State are big challenges. But playing and winning in Norman is one of the longest shots any team will face this year.
Still, TU feels better about going to Norman than it did a year ago when it went to Stillwater. Tulsa is far more experienced and settled than it was when it got run over by the Cowboys.
"Now, that doesn't ensure success," Blankenship said. "But it does ensure that we aren't going to go through the same learning curve. One of the things we shared is it took us a little while offensively to figure out what are G.J.'s best strengths. What did he do very well? We're not going to have that same learning curve."
That doesn't mean there aren't concerns for the Hurricane. Tulsa will still have a handful of young players who have to play important roles against very good teams early in the season.
Before October, Tulsa's defense will play arguably three of the nation's top five quarterbacks - OU's Landry Jones, OSU's Brandon Weeden and Boise's Kellen Moore.
"We have some that will go under that same learning curve, but fortunately for us we are a veteran squad and that will help accelerate the learning curve in September," Blankenship said.
Tulsa defensive coordinator Brent Guy said the type of offensive players on the schedule did give TU defenders a serious approach in September.
He knows. Mistakes against players like OSU's Justin Blackmon or OU's Ryan Broyles will cost you six points.
Getting lined up and in the right spots is critical.
"In one of those first games we will see something that wasn't planned," Guy said. "Something will show up that we'll try to show them and give them the sets and checks. It could be empty to unbalanced to formation into the boundary. We hope to give them the basic rules.
"In tempo, you see people that don't get lined up quick enough, or gaps that get exposed and teams run into them. I think that's what a lot of tempo offenses are. Can the defense get lined up?"