Tulsa and UCF face off as matched foes
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Saturday, November 17, 2012
11/17/12 at 6:41 AM
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Throughout college football this weekend, there may not be a more evenly matched collision of quality teams.
The University of Tulsa averages 37.2 points per game. UCF averages 36.1.
Tulsa leads Conference USA in rushing at 245 yards per game. UCF is third at 189.
UCF leads Conference USA in total defense. Tulsa is No. 2.
"(TU players) look across the table and look at UCF and realize that (the Knights) are in a very similar place as the University of Tulsa," Golden Hurricane coach Bill Blankenship said. "Identical records. Losses to two BCS teams."
Tulsa setbacks occurred at Iowa State and Arkansas, while UCF was defeated by Ohio State and Missouri.
"You look at what we do well," Blankenship continued. "Both of us tend to run the ball. Really good defense. Very effective in the passing game. Both have really good return guys. The special-teams units are (ranked) 1-2 throughout the league. I just think we're playing against a team very similar to ourselves.
"It's a challenge. It's exciting. This is the kind of football you should be playing for championships."
TU was in this same position a year ago - needing a home victory to clinch Conference USA's West Division title and a berth in the league's championship game. A big crowd at H.A. Chapman Stadium witnessed a one-sided competition, won 48-16 by the Houston Cougars.
Blankenship effectively spoke for the entire TU program by saying, "It was gut-wrenching."
Most of the current Hurricane difference-makers were involved in last season's Houston setback, and the Tulsa veterans have been driven by that memory during preparation for Saturday's showdown with UCF.
"It felt like we were in the driver's seat and we let Houston come into our house and take one away from us," Hurricane wide receiver Jordan James said. "It's something that's in the back of everyone's mind. We're going to play accordingly."
In an 11 a.m., Fox Sports Net-televised clash at H.A. Chapman Stadium, the C-USA East Division-leading UCF Knights collide with the West-leading Hurricane. Each team is 8-2 overall and 6-0 in conference play.
With a victory, UCF would clinch the East title and the host role in the Dec. 1 Conference USA championship game. With a victory, Tulsa would secure the West pennant, but there wouldn't be an immediate clinching of C-USA championship host status unless East Carolina (5-1 league record) loses at Tulane on Saturday.
Tulsa does control its own destiny. With a win over UCF and a win at SMU next week, the Hurricane would have the head-to-head tiebreaker edge over UCF, a better conference record than East Carolina and would host the championship game. The likely championship-game assignment - a rematch with UCF.
"I love games like this," UCF coach George O'Leary said. "It's not as much a chess match as a man-on-man game, and let's see who wins.
"We both still have to win games to win the division. No one has secured that yet."
The Hurricane enters Saturday's game with the momentum generated by last week's 41-7 revenge triumph at Houston.
At the end of the 2005 season - TU's first in Conference USA - the Hurricane traveled to Orlando, Fla., and defeated UCF 44-27. TU hasn't won the C-USA title since.
Saturday's circumstances and stakes are comparable to the dynamics attached to last year's Houston-TU clash.
"Very comparable," Blankenship said. "I think if you talk to the seniors, they've been talking about a conference championship - but haven't experienced it.
"There's a void in their experience here at the University of Tulsa, and I think that void needs to be filled. You can't win a conference championship without winning a divisional championship."
At 34.2 yards per game, UCF is among the least-penalized teams in college football. On 49 percent of their third-down plays, the Knights get a first down (compared to just 37 percent for TU). The Knights are 9-of-11 on field goals, average 5 yards per rush attempt and have Conference USA's best pass defense.
The Knights are exceedingly competent at quarterback (Blake Bortles is a 66 percent passer), at running back (6-foot-3, 220-pound Latavius Murray averages 6.8 yards per carry) and on kickoff returns (Quincy McDuffie has a 36.3-yard average, with three touchdowns).
UCF at TU
11 a.m. Saturday
Radio: KRMG am740, fm102.3
Original Print Headline: Tulsa, UCF face off as matched foes
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
TU's Alex Singleton keeps his head down for yardage against Houston last week. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World
TU's Shawn Jackson tackles Houston's Michael Hayes during their game last season at Chapman Stadium. Saturday's game against UCF, like that Houston game, would give TU a division championship. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World file