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Opponent preview: Tulsa Golden Hurricanes

Aug 30, 2010, 1:00 AM EDT

Episode nine of previews profiling Notre Dame’s 2010 opponents. Check out the rest of them with Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, Boston College, Pitt, Western Michigan and Navy.

The Overview:

While many bristled at the addition of Tulsa to the Notre Dame home schedule, the Golden Hurricanes are a football program on the rise. Head coach Todd Graham has taken the program to its highest point, and while 2009 was a step back, it was only their first losing season since 2004, and the only season under Graham that Tulsa didn’t go bowling.

Last time against the Irish:

What last time? This is the first time Notre Dame has played Tulsa and only the 26th game in school history where the Irish have played a Conference USA football team. The Irish are 23-3 against Conference USA teams, with the majority of those games played against SMU.

Degree of Difficulty:

Of the 12 opponents the Irish face this year, I rank Tulsa as the tenth-toughest game on the schedule.

      3. Boston College Eagles
      4. Michigan Wolverines
      5. Michigan State Spartans
      6. Pitt Panthers
      7. Stanford Cardinal
      8. Purdue Boilermakers
      9. Navy Midshipmen
      10. Tulsa Golden Hurricanes
      12. Western Michigan Broncos

As I mentioned during the Navy preview, the Irish schedule feels tougher and tougher as you analyze it. Tulsa is another one of those games that could be tricky for Notre Dame, with the stakes far higher for the Irish than their opponent. Win, and you just beat Tulsa. But lose? Well — you get the point.

The Match-Up:

Tulsa’s offense took a step backward last season, likely attributed to roster turnover and the departure of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who took over the offense at Auburn under Gene Chizik. Graham’s solution? Find a new Malzahn, a former high school head coach known for his no-huddle, hurry-up spread offense. Enter co-offensive coordinator Chad Morris, one of the most successful high school coaches in Texas history. He’ll handle the passing attack while fellow coordinator Herb Hand handles the rushing attack. If Tulsa can solve some offensive line woes, they’ll have a high-octane passing attack. Quarterback G.J. Kinne is an able triggerman, a Texas transfer that’s a capable runner and passer. He’ll be throwing to a talented set of wide receivers, led by Damaris Johnson, one of the most electric players that the Irish will face this year. Only 5-8, Johnson was a do-everything waterbug-type player who had 1131 yards receiving, averaged 6.7 yards per carry, and was the best return man in the conference.

Defensively, the Golden Hurricanes are in good hands under Graham’s tutelage, and employ a 3-3-5 attack. Their defensive front hinges on the play of Juco transfer Darrell Zellars, who walks into Tulsa an immediate starter and potential impact player. The heart of the defense is senior DeAundre Brown, who plays a hybrid safety/linebacker role. He’s an all-conference performer, made 102 tackes last season and will likely be all over the field against Notre Dame’s new spread attack.

How the Irish will win:

The Irish will be playing their ninth consecutive Saturday when Tulsa rolls into town, and the final Saturday of October will be Paul Longo’s time to shine. The “coat of armor” that Longo built onto the Irish, particularly on the line of scrimmage, will be evident as the Irish run the ball effectively and terrorize an offensive line that was the downfall of the Golden Hurricane offense. Expect to hear from Cierre Wood, who by week nine will have made himself an invaluable part of the offense.

How the Irish will lose:

Nothing scares Irish fans more than an explosive offense run by a mobile quarterback, and Tulsa has all the ingredients needed to become the high-octane unit they were two seasons ago. If the Irish pass rush can’t get to G.J. Kinne, it could be a very long day at Notre Dame stadium. On the opposite side of the ball, the 3-3-5 defense, and its ability to be deceptive, could prove problematic to Notre Dame’s green offensive tackles. Tulsa’s roster is filled with unheralded yet very good athletes, and they’ll be one of the fastest teams the Irish play this season.

Gut Feeling:

This game scares me. This will be Tulsa’s first trip to Notre Dame stadium and the highest-profile game on their schedule. Consider the wagons circled and the Golden Hurricanes motivated. If the fanbase’s apathy toward this game on the schedule is any indication, the Irish could walk into this match-up indifferent, and watch their season go up in smoke if they’re not careful. All that being said, Brian Kelly was brought into Notre Dame to stop games like this from happening. If things go the way I think they could, Tulsa will be playing an Irish team that’s hitting its stride, ready to walk into November on a roll. 

  1. Ryan - Aug 30, 2010 at 2:59 AM

    Isn’t Tulsa the Golden Hurricane, as in hurricane singular?

  2. Art Vandelay - Aug 30, 2010 at 3:01 AM

    Nice analysis, I too think we will be pretty dinged up by the time we play Tulsa and the game has all the earmarks of a good trap game, especially if we are 7-1 or 6-2 going into it and get caught looking ahead to USC. I can’t wait to see the effect of this conditioning and how the team will perform in the 4th Q and in the latter part of the season. If we are humming right along by then, I think Longo can then be considered as important a new hire as Kelly. Lastly, Herbstreit dismissed us as a 7 or 8 win team on College Game Day this weekend saying that the Irish will score a lot of points but there is just no defense there. God, I hope we prove him wrong.

  3. Bob Scully - Aug 30, 2010 at 6:35 AM

    Amen to that Art (your last sentence)….lol….GO IRISH!!!

  4. Canadian James - Aug 30, 2010 at 7:46 AM

    I second that. Thank God the Canadian networks stopped showing College Game Day, because It saves me from having to listen to Herbstreit telling me how smart he is every week. Hey Kirk, Don’t you have a high school showcase to coach in so you can go make yourself seem overly important to impressionable young kids.
    Back to the topic at hand, Tulsa doesn’t scare me at all. If BK is worth his salary, then these are the type of games we will never lose under his watch.

  5. baIrish - Aug 30, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    Well said, Keith. I’m an ND grad from the Tulsa area, and the TU game is my biggest concern for a trap game. Hopefully BK will have the Irish humming at that point in the schedule and we can overpower the Golden Hurricane (yes, it’s singular), but I have a LOT of respect for TU – they know how to play ball, and play hard. There’s a reason OU and OSU, the 2 big-name schools in Oklahoma, don’t like to play Tulsa: TU can play with the big boys, but they don’t get any respect. Just like you said, beat them, & everybody says “ho hum;” lose to them and you look like a chump. TU’s fielded some damn fine teams the last 5 years and the entire university is on the rise.
    I also think there’ll be an unexpectedly large, noisy visitor section for this game, too. My whole family (aside from me) are TU grads, and it sounds like a LOT of folks are making this trip.

  6. jarious - Aug 30, 2010 at 8:21 PM

    I am fairly convinced the Irish schedule has been labeled ‘manageable’ due to the fact that Western Michigan and Tulsa are on it (in addition to the service schools). I watched a recent replay of Tulsa-Houston last year, 46-45 loss. They gave up about 700 yds and a 95+ yd kick return touchdown. On the plus side, they looked to be a capable running team, I guess I assumed they just slung it around. We will see Montana in this game.

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