John Klein: Hurricane grows into new defensive style
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Sunday, December 30, 2012
12/30/12 at 7:16 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Hurricane grows into defensive style
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The transformation of Tulsa football from offensive shootouts to winning with defense has been remarkable.
"It really is amazing," said TU linebacker DeAundre Brown. "I can remember our crowd reaction when we used to go on the field. They would be like 'oh no, our defense is back out there.'
"It is different now. A lot different. We know we can win games with our defense. That's a pretty big change."
In the two years since defensive coordinator Brent Guy joined coach Bill Blankenship's staff, the Tulsa defense has transitioned smoothly into a new style and a new level of success.
TU has gone from a team hoping to make a couple of stops to win a high-scoring shootout to a team that is more than capable of winning tight, low-scoring games in the fourth quarter.
In seven games this year (Fresno, UAB, Marshall, Rice, SMU and UCF twice) Tulsa either trailed or was tied in the second half. TU won six of the seven.
"That goes back to winning with defense on the road at UCF two years ago," said Guy. "That's when it really started to sink in with our guys.
"That's when we first realized we could do it. Our guys gained a lot of confidence, and we've grown since."
Some of it is style. Tulsa went from a 3-4 front to a 4-3 front. That has resulted in a huge up-turn in sacks (48, third in nation), tackles for losses (104, fourth in nation) and run defense (121 yards per game, 17th in nation).
Blankenship brought in Guy to change not only the style but the culture of defense at Tulsa.
That happened the first spring (2011).
"There's no question we've grown into the 4-3 defense," said Guy. "It has taken us the past two years to really adapt to it. And, it all started the first day of spring practice two years ago.
"That spring practice was the key to it all. We had good ends, but to really play the 4-3 you need to be strong in the middle with a couple of guys. That started happening pretty quick. We found some guys who could play those inside spots. I really felt like we would grow into this defense because we had the right kind of players. It was just a matter of learning how to play."
Another huge factor has been the experience and age of Tulsa's defense.
TU has eight seniors on defense, and no one should diminish the importance of maturity.
"When I talk about this defense, I keep going back to the eight seniors," said Guy. "I think you have to realize just how important it is to have those kind of players. It helps so much to have that experience. ...
"Our defense has gone through some ups and downs this season. It is much easier to go through the ups and downs if you have experienced players who understand the importance of just keep playing. Just keep coming."
And that's what Tulsa did.
"I think it was important for our offense to understand we have their back," said TU defensive back Dexter McCoil. "We have really changed Tulsa football. I think all most people knew about Tulsa football was offense. Our coaches kept telling us we had to make more stops on defense to be successful.
"I think the experience on our defense has been the key. We have so many guys that have been in those tight spots before. I think being in those situations really prepared us to make the kind of improvement we have on defense."
It could be argued that Tulsa's football revival, going back to the 2003 Humanitarian Bowl, has been based on offense.
The Golden Hurricane, under coaches Steve Kragthorpe and Todd Graham, breathed new life into TU football by relying on wildly entertaining offenses.
Tulsa has been to eight bowls in the past 10 years because it had quarterbacks like Paul Smith and G.J. Kinne, deadly accurate throwers with pro-caliber receivers.
However, Tulsa's current Golden Hurricane is defense-oriented, stocked with experience and probably the best front seven at TU since the early 1990s.
It is quite a turnaround engineered by Guy, who changed how Tulsa played defense and in turn changed how the Golden Hurricane won football games.
Tulsa, 10-3 and Conference USA champion, plays Iowa State in Monday's Liberty Bowl.
In an era of wide-open offense in college football, TU and ISU are primarily defensive teams. They should produce what we had back on Sept. 1 when Iowa State won a tight 38-23 game in Ames.
That was a game determined by a handful of big plays and a key turnover that turned the momentum to the Cyclones. This should be a similar game because these teams have not changed all that much.
"Our coaches have been preaching to us that the best team in our league every year, no matter what kind of offense they ran, won the league because they had a good defense," said Cory Dorris. "We have made a pretty big transition.
"I think coach Guy and all of our coaches have done a tremendous job. I think as we've grown older, and got more experience, we've gotten better. It wasn't easy, but we've come together and it has worked out pretty well."