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September 4, 2009

Preview: Tulsa at Tulane

The season is finally here and Tulsa kicks it off with a primetime game on ESPN versus Conference USA rival Tulane.

These two teams met at the end of the 2008 season back on Nov. 22, with the Golden Hurricane cruising to an easy 56-7 victory. Tulane believes it will be much improved this year, while Tulsa must replace some key pieces from its NCAA-best offense last fall.

Here is a look at the all important C-USA opener for the Golden Hurricane, as they look to start 2009 off on a winning note.

When Tulane has the Ball

Tulane Head Coach Bob Toledo has been under fire a for his offense being outdated, but he believes the Pro Style set that he employs can be successful as long as Tulane's key players stay healthy.

Last year, the Green Wave's two best offensive players - running back Andre Anderson and receiver Jeremy Williams - were both lost for the season due to injury.

Now they are back and Toledo thinks their presence will help Tulane improve a unit that ranked 112th in the country last season, averaging just 16.7 points per game.

Anderson is the real deal. A powerful back with deceptive speed, Anderson was the fourth leading rusher in the country last year before a shoulder injury ended his season in the seventh game. He wasn't around for Tulsa's 56-7 beatdown of Tulane on Nov. 22.

Also watch out for freshman running back Payten Jason. Even with Anderson in the lineup, Toledo has stated that Jason will get touches regardless.

Williams had 27 receptions for 437 yards and five touchdowns in just five games last year. After the big-play receiver was injured, the Tulane passing game was never the same, as it simply didn't possess another weapon like Williams to stretch defenses.

Like Anderson, Williams didn't face Tulsa last season, so this is going to be a much more explosive offense the Golden Hurricane will see this time around.

While Anderson and Williams are the stars of the Green Wave offense, the key to Tulane improving in 2009 falls directly on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback Joe Kemp. To put it kindly, the quarterback play for Tulane was brutal at times last season and Toledo needs Kemp to bring some stability to the position.

Kemp has had a great offseason, but now he has to show he can get the job done in a game setting. The young quarterback won't have an easy time of it Friday night. Tulsa has speed at linebacker with Tanner Antle, Mike Bryan and George Clinkscale.

Those three, along with stud safety James Lockett, will do their best to turn the heat up on Kemp all game long and force him into making mistakes. If the Golden Hurricane can do that, it will be a long night for Kemp and the Tulane offense.

Expect the Green Wave to come out and try to run the ball right at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane returns just one starter on their defensive line, and if Tulane can get Anderson going early, it will serve two purposes.

It will take some of the pressure off of Kemp, and it will keep Tulsa's high-powered offense on the sidelines. Toledo doesn't want to get into a shootout with Tulsa. That's a battle Toledo knows he can't win. He would much rather slow down the pace and shorten the game with his power running game.

If Tulane can accomplish that goal with Anderson and Jason, it will have a shot to pull the upset.

When Tulsa has the Ball

Here is where Tulane could have a big problem. The bad news for the Green Wave is they finished 2008 ranked 106 in scoring defense and 113 in rushing defense.

The good news is they finished 14 against the pass. However, that stat is a bit misleading because teams were so busy running the ball down Tulane's throat they didn't have to throw the ball very often.

The Green Wave defense is going to have to hope they got a lot better in nine months. Tulsa may be breaking in a new quarterback for the second straight year, but the Golden Hurricane has led the nation in total offense the last two seasons.

In perhaps the worst kept secret in college football, Tulsa finally announced Thursday that sophomore G.J. Kinne will be Tulsa's starting quarterback on Friday night. The Texas transfer beat out Jacob Bower and Shavodrick Beaver this summer in a heated battle for the job.

Kinne has the accuracy and mobility to succeed in Todd Graham's system and become the next great quarterback at Tulsa.

He'll be facing a pretty good secondary for Tulane. Corners Phillips Davis and Charles Harris are solid, while freshman free safety Alex Lauricella is a great athlete who the Tulane coaching staff thinks will be a future star.

Lauricella isn't a starter, but he will be on the field a lot, especially with all of Tulsa's multiple receiver sets.

You know the Tulsa program has reached a certain kind of status when it can lose its all-time leading rusher in Tarrion Adams and not lose a beat by replacing him with quality players like Charles Clay and Jamad Williams.

While both backs will get their touches, Clay gets first crack at being the primary ball carrier. He should start the year off with a bang against a Tulane defense that allowed an eye-popping 218.4 yards per game on the ground last season.

Tulane is expected to be stingier up front in 2009, however the Green Wave's best player on the defensive line - end Reggie Scott - has been suspended for this game.

That's not going to help when it comes to getting pressure on Kinne, especially considering behind the front four, linebacker is the weak area of the Green Wave defense.

Even with a deeper, more athletic front, look for Tulsa's offensive line to open holes for Clay and Williams to get their yards.

Once the running game gets cranking, it will allow Kinne to go down the field to his bevy of receivers that includes Trae Johnson, Damaris Johnson, Slick Shelley and A.J. Whitmore.

Tulane doesn't have a lot of pass rushers on its defense, so if Kinne has time in the pocket or if the Green Wave is forced to send extra guys to put pressure on him, he'll pick their undermanned defense apart.

Tulsa's skill players are just too fast and too talented for Tulane's defense to stop.

Overall, even though Tulsa is breaking in a new quarterback and replacing its all-time leading rusher, this is still a huge mismatch in the Golden Hurricane's favor.

Special Teams

Ross Thevenot does both the kicking and punting for the Green Wave. While the senior ranked second in the nation averaging 45.8 yards per punt, he struggled with field goals last season, converting on just 9-of-20 attempts.

Toledo wants more big plays out of his return game, so true freshman D.J. Banks will handle both punts and kick offs, trying to give Tulane a spark on special teams.

Damaris Johnson averaged 25.6 yards on kickoff returns last year, and he will also return punts this season, so the Golden Hurricane are in good hands there. Trae Johnson will provide support.

Michael Such is a proven punter who averaged 43 yards in 2008, while Cory Jefferis will handle the kickoff duties.

The big question is at placekicker, where Kevin Fitzpatrick and Matt Hulse battled all summer to replace the departed Jarod Tracy. The good thing for either kicker is if Tulsa scores points like it has the past few years, they will have to worry more about extra points than field goals in most games.

With the big play potential of Johnson and Johnson, special teams is yet another area where Tulsa should have the advantage in this game.

Bottom Line

This is a perfect opener for Tulsa and its new quarterback Kinne. I honestly believe that there are going to be a lot of improved teams in C-USA this season like UTEP, UAB, Marshall and SMU. However, I don't see Tulane being in that class.

The Green Wave has a couple of good players scattered around their roster, but it won't be enough to deal with the overall speed and athleticism of Tulsa in front of a national television audience.

Toledo will try and control the game with Anderson and his running game, but that strategy can go out the window quickly if Tulsa jumps out to an early lead. Then, all of the pressure falls on Kemp, who hasn't shown that he can handle it up to this point.

Tulsa is loaded with talent. They are now a program that doesn't rebuild, they reload. Graham is taking players away from Michigan and LSU. On the national stage, I'm not sure that people realize just how much talent this team has throughout its roster yet.

They'll find out on Friday.

Look for the Golden Hurricane to make a statement that there is life after Tarrion Adams and David Johnson by unleashing their new weapons on an undermanned Tulane team. The defense will control Anderson, and the offense will take care of the rest, as Tulsa wins its opener in impressive fashion.


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