John Klein: Tulsa should be able to avenge Iowa State loss in bowl
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Monday, December 31, 2012
12/31/12 at 6:45 AM
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Liberty Bowl emotional for parents of TU senior players
Original Print Headline: Hurricane should be able to avenge loss
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Tulsa was clearly the better team and dominated the first quarter of the season against Iowa State.
Then, in a foreshadow of the season, the Golden Hurricane made a crucial mistake and was inconsistent the rest of the way in a 38-23 loss at Iowa State.
Tulsa gets a chance to right a wrong from earlier this season on Monday.
"Very seldom do you get a second chance in life, so we're very grateful to the Liberty Bowl," said Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship.
The Golden Hurricane, regrouping after the disappointment in Ames to win 10 games, would appear to be very capable of avenging that loss suffered way back on Sept. 1.
The up and down sides of a college football rematch have been endlessly debated. It is easy to come down with reasons to favor TU or Iowa State.
"You will see very similar teams," said Blankenship.
However, it would appear in this instance that Tulsa is the better team and should win the Liberty Bowl against Iowa State.
"This is a great matchup," said Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads. "Our players know what Tulsa is capable of."
The Golden Hurricane lost just three times en route to the Conference USA championship. In all three losses, just a play or two would have reversed the result.
Even though the 15-point loss to Iowa State was the worst of the season for Tulsa, the Hurricane dominated the first 20 minutes and appeared on the way to an easy victory. Then a second-quarter turnover started an avalanche of mistakes that cost Tulsa the game.
"Turnovers will kill you," said Blankenship. "They killed us in that first game and Iowa State took advantage of them."
Tulsa quarterback Cody Green was fabulous in the first quarter, but TU's offense was inconsistent the rest of the game. Still, TU gained 358 yards and Green threw for 198 yards. Trey Watts ran for 125.
So, there are plenty of reasons to believe Tulsa should be able to move the ball on the Cyclones, who had one of the top defenses in the Big 12 this season.
The most glaring numbers for Tulsa in that game were on defense. Iowa State, which did not have a good offense this season, gained 441 yards and 28 first downs against the Hurricane.
That was nearly 100 yards more than TU's defense averaged in the next 12 games of the season.
"There will be a lot of tweaks and changes as there will be for Tulsa," said Rhoads. "I think we have a great concern about defending Tulsa.
"Really, the most important thing from the first game is to look at it and look at all of the changes made by us and Tulsa since then."
TU's defense became the cornerstone of this team as the season progressed.
"Defensively we've gotten better week by week," said Blankenship. "They've rallied every time we faced adversity and handled it well."
While Tulsa's offense continued to have its ups and downs through the season, it could be argued the Golden Hurricane defense will be the most significant difference on either team for this rematch.
TU's defense gave up a couple of game-changing big plays against Iowa State but settled into a comfortable and confident routine for the rest of the season.
Iowa State's offense did just enough to beat the Golden Hurricane. However, the Cyclones never seemed to improve on offense and found it a huge struggle to win games in the Big 12.
Yes, the weekly grind of the Big 12 is a step up from Tulsa. However, Iowa State did little to make one believe it is significantly better.
Tulsa and Iowa State are far different teams now than they were in the first week of the season. But are they better teams?
"We tried to tweak our offense and defense as we went along just like Iowa State did," said Blankenship.
It would be hard to make the argument that Iowa State, 6-6 (ninth in the Big 12) and down to its third quarterback of the season, is better.
Tulsa, because of a defense that became more dominant during the season, is significantly better.
The uncertainty for Tulsa surrounds the offense.
The Golden Hurricane made a handful of mistakes that cost it games against Arkansas and SMU. Yet, even with the turnovers and strange calls, those games against the Razorbacks and Mustangs were easily winnable if TU made some fourth-quarter plays to win.
Then, there is always the emotional factor.
Who wants to play this game and who is more excited to be here? In addition, who has the most motivation?
All of those intangible factors would seem to favor Tulsa.
This is the bowl game Tulsa wanted to play.
"This bowl was our destination all season," said Blankenship. "This is where we wanted to be and we had to earn our way here."
For Iowa State, this is little more than a consolation prize for yet another disappointing season.
This is a game Tulsa should win. Of course, the same was said three other times this season when TU did not win.
But because of motivation and defense, we believe TU will get its 11th victory on Monday.
TU head coach Bill Blankenship speaks during a Liberty Bowl press conference on Sunday in Memphis, Tenn. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World