NCAAF Team Report - Tulsa - INSIDE SLANT
On the week Conference USA play started in the new-look formation of the league, the same old names kept rising to the top.
It is no surprise, for instance, that East Carolina easily defeated Florida Atlantic in the Owls' first C-USA game. Shane Carden and Tommy Shuler continue to be some of the league's finest offensive weapons.
Tulsa got back to the winning ways with a dramatic come-from-behind home win over Colorado State. After an embarrassing opening weekend loss, it was exactly what the Golden Hurricane needed.
Marshall continues to impress, though it did it against an overmatched FCS team.
So that was Week 2. Week 3 will get these teams' attention quickly.
Tulsa is at Oklahoma. East Carolina hosts Virginia Tech. Marshall plays at an Ohio team that defeated conference mate North Texas last week.
No, none of these games will help determine who will win the Conference USA race. But they will help provide a measuring stick to see just how much some of these teams can separate themselves from the pack. Pull off an upset of one of these teams -- or, in Marshall's case, defeat Ohio handily -- and a team can honestly profess to be head and shoulders above the rest of the league.
EAST CAROLINA (2-0)
Game: East Carolina 31, Florida Atlantic 13. The Pirates were not fazed by the short week -- this game was played on Thursday -- and came out just as sharp as the week before to move to 2-0. ECU relied on its run game, forced three turnovers and led throughout the game.
Takeaway: A week earlier in a track meet with Old Dominion, Shane Carden put up some record numbers. But against FAU, his numbers were a bit more muted.
That doesn't mean that he played a poor game. In fact, it's more of the opposite. Carden remained productive, completing 17 of his 25 passes. And for the second consecutive game, he didn't commit a turnover. To him, it's just a matter of molding his game to fit what the Pirates need on that particular night. And to ECU, it's certainly working.
"I just want to do what this team needs me to do," Carden said after the game. "That is what it is all about, doing whatever it takes to win. I'm not out there trying to get stats, trying to throw the ball around. If I don't have to throw it 50 times, I won't."
--QB Cody Keith, potentially Carden's successor, made his college debut in the fourth quarter. He completed three of his five passes for 11 yards.
--KR Lance Ray had an 85-yard kickoff return in the second quarter. It's the kind of dimension that could make the Pirates even more dangerous as C-USA play continues.
Next: Virginia Tech, Sept. 14
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (0-2)
Game: UCF 38, FIU 0: The Panthers' woes continued at home when in-state rival UCF came in and thoroughly dominated. FIU had just 173 yards of offense and 10 first downs.
Takeaway: Yes, the competition has been daunting -- Maryland and a good UCF team. But something has to change for the Panthers on offense if they plan to have success this year.
Through two games -- again, against good competition -- FIU's offensive numbers look like so-so numbers for a team in one game. The Panthers have collected just 19 first downs and 344 total yards. The deficiency is weighted more toward the running game, though coach Ron Turner said afterward, in a question about the offensive line, that the offense's deficiency can be attributed to not making plays down the field.
--Experience is a key reason why the Panthers continue to rely on QB Jake Medlock to lead their offense, even if the results haven't been spectacular. Medlock leads the entire young offense with 13 starts.
--WR Fred Porter is beginning to emerge. A sophomore, he has caught passes in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. Against UCF, he caught a career-best three for 25 yards.
Next: Bethune-Cookman, Sept. 14
FLORIDA ATLANTIC (0-2)
Game: East Carolina 31, Florida Atlantic 13. In the Owls' debut in Conference USA play, the result was a so-so one for the defense and a poor one on offense. FAU held ECU to 312 yards, but couldn't move the ball much themselves. QB Greg Hankerson threw for just 116 yards and a touchdown while committing two turnovers.
Takeaway: Offense continues to be Florida Atlantic's problem through two games, even though the level of competition was pretty high. The Owls have scored but 19 points. Perhaps most troubling? FAU has given up 11 sacks.
With a freshman at quarterback, it's just another thing he has to think about while dropping back and figuring out his reads.
--DL Cory Henry's sack moved him into third all-time at FAU in sacks, with 10.5. His was part of a defense that had three sacks in the game.
--Junior DB D'Joun Smith displayed quite a bit of athleticism against ECU QB Shane Carden. He was credited with three pass breakups, all on balls, according to FAU, that would have gone for touchdowns.
Next: at USF, Sept. 14
LOUISIANA TECH (1-1)
Game: Louisiana Tech 27, Lamar 14. Tevin King rushed for 182 yards to lead the Bulldogs to their first win of the Skip Holtz era, beating Lamar of the FCS. But it wasn't a romp: Tech didn't ice the game until a score with less than two minutes to play.
Takeaway: When Sonny Dykes left Ruston for Cal last year, he may have taken his offense away with him, too. Sure, it's early, and one of the foes is N.C. State of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the quarterback is a new guy.
But Tech showed against Lamar Saturday night that this isn't the kind of offense to toss a bunch of points up on the board. It was more methodical, relying on the ground game. If that results in wins, great. But if not, this program's momentum could grind to a halt in no time.
--King, who missed much of last season due to injury, returned to his starting role when Kenneth Dixon was held out for precautionary reasons after hurting his knee in the second quarter. Assuming he returns to health, Tech may now have an embarrassment of riches at the position.
--Sophomore PK Kyle Fischer, kicking in pressure situations, made the best of his day. He made field goals of 44 and 49 yards.
Next: Tulane, Sept. 12
Game: Marshall 55, Gardner-Webb 0: The Runnin' Bulldogs of the FCS were no match from the beginning for Marshall, which had standouts on both sides of the ball. Perhaps most significant? Marshall scored on all six of its trips inside Gardner-Webb's 20, which speaks to solid efficiency that should bode well the rest of the year.
Takeaway: Rakeem Cato remained sharp at quarterback against an inferior foe. He threw for 230 yards and a touchdown on 16 of 28 passing attempts, while only playing a little over two quarters.
Getting Cato some rest and not risking an injury was the smartest think Marshall coach Doc Holliday could do. Cato's first two games have done nothing to dispel the notion that he'll be one of Conference USA's finest players this season.
--DB Monterius Lovett not only had an interception, he returned it 70 yards for a touchdown.
--Marshall coach Doc Holliday made a switch in his starting lineup at linebacker inserting Evan McKelvey, a redshirt sophomore, for his first start.
Next: At Ohio, Sept. 14
MIDDLE TENNESSEE (1-1)
Game: North Carolina 40, Middle Tennessee 20. The Tar Heels' talent, especially on offense, was too much. North Carolina collected 511 yards on 77 plays and also capitalized on four MTSU turnovers. The Blue Raiders trailed by 23 at the half but cut the lead to 26-13 with 12 minutes to play before UNC scored two more times to put the game out of reach.
Takeaway: QB Logan Kilgore's shoulder injury, suffered in the third quarter of the opening game, continues to be a concern for MTSU. He played Saturday, yes, but didn't throw for a touchdown and did throw three interceptions.
Austin Grammer played sparingly, but it was early, according to the Daily News Journal, raising the spectre of a two-quarterback system going forward, especially if Kilgore's senior season continues to be hampered by an injury.
--RB Jordan Parker continues to be reliable at the start of 2013. His 109-yard game marked the fifth time in his last six games that he's topped the century mark.
--QB Logan Kilgore continues to cement his place in MTSU record books. He passed former MTSU QB Dwight Dasher to move into fourth place on the school's all-time yardage list; he now has 5,697 yards passing.
Next: Memphis, Sept. 14
NORTH TEXAS (1-1)
Game: Ohio 27, North Texas 21. Ohio took a big lead early and held off the Mean Green to get the win. UNT tied the game at 21-21 after being down two touchdowns but Ohio kicked field goals on back-to-back drives to ice the win.
Takeaway: In a measuring stick game for how the Mean Green stacked up against a so-so opponent from another conference, UNT didn't deliver. There's a glass half-full and a glass half-empty approach here, as always.
For one, it's nice that UNT was able to launch a comeback led by senior quarterback Derek Thompson. But it's disconcerting that the Mean Green were in that position to begin with and not at all comforting that UNT couldn't make anything happen on its final possessions.
--Rushing is a concern. Three players got nine or more carries at Ohio, but none more than 35 yards total -- sophomore Antoinne Jimmerson. UNT only had 104 rushing yards on 38 carries, meaning it only collected 2.7 yards per attempt.
--WR Brelan Chancellor continues to excel in many areas. He had a 27-yard punt return, a 28-yard kickoff return and a catch for 33 yards. He was also used in the wildcat to help pick up a first down in the first half.
Next: Ball State, Sept. 14
Game: Did not play
Next: Kansas, Sept. 14
SOUTHERN MISS (0-2)
Game: Nebraska 56, Southern Miss 13. The Golden Eagles never had a chance in this one, falling behind 21-3 late in the first quarter on an interception returned for a touchdown (the second one of the game to that point) and trailed 35-6 at the half. USM only managed 284 yards, threw four interceptions and was only 4-of-13 on third down. Simply put, it was Nebraska domination.
Takeaway: USM's 14th consecutive loss wasn't a surprising one, considering the opponent. And to lose by such a margin isn't also really a surprise.
But it's disconcerting to see the way USM started the game. In its prouder years, USM would be a tough out for any big-name team and would hang around until being wore down. At Nebraska, USM threw two pick-sixes in the first quarter and gave itself no chance.
"Obviously, disappointing in the way we played to start the football game," USM coach Todd Monken said. "When you come to a tough place to play and start the opening series and get a first down and then turn the ball over, let alone it leads to a score. It is the second week in a row that we have done that early in the game. It really makes it difficult coming back from that."
--WR Rickey Bradley caught his first career touchdown, a 41-yard pass from first-year starter Allan Bridgford. He ended the game with three catches for 57 yards.
--USM has already started two true freshmen: DB Kelsey Douglas and WR Trye'oune Holmes.
Next: At Arkansas, Sept. 14
Game: South Alabama 41, Tulane 39. South Alabama, which is transitioning into the Bowl Subdivision, took a 28-7 lead early in the second quarter, but Tulane rallied to take the lead later and make it a ballgame. Down 41-39 in the final minutes, a two-point conversion for Tulane was unsuccessful and USA took the onside kick to ice the win.
Takeaway: Tulane and coach Curtis Johnson are building for the future, so they must take some solace from the way junior QB Nick Montana played.
Montana had his first 300-yard passing game and threw for three touchdowns compared to one interception. He was forced to do it, somewhat, by South Alabama's early lead. That meant more opportunities to throw, and he largely capitalized, completing 29 of his 47 attempts.
"You never want to start off a game by going down big like that, but we just fought to get back in it. We did whatever we had to do, run or throw," Montana said.
--WR Ryan Grant had a whopper of a day: Fourteen catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Those totals were career highs, and the 14 catches were the most in Tulane history for one player in a single game.
--PK Cairo Santos continues his perfection, making a 47-yard field goal to extend his streak to 24 consecutive field goals made.
Next: At Louisiana Tech, Sept. 12
Game: Tulsa 30, Colorado State 27. Carl Salazar's 34-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Golden Hurricane to a win over the visiting Rams. It marked the end of a terrific comeback for Tulsa, which trailed 27-17 entering the final quarter.
Takeaway: For a team that was humiliated in its opener at Bowling Green a week earlier -- 34-7 was the final score in that one -- just getting a win superseded any X-and-O dissection of how it was attained.
Bill Blankenship's club could ill afford going 0-2 and losing at home to Colorado State, for the sake of the team's confidence. And how Tulsa won Saturday might be the most important, erasing a double-digit deficit in the final quarter to win at the buzzer.
Look for that confidence to spill over into the coming weeks, even if this week's opponent, Oklahoma, poses yet another tall task.
--RB Ja'Terian Douglas entered the stat sheet for something he's not accustomed to: catching a touchdown pass. Douglas caught his first career score on a 17-yard pass from Cody Green with 7:18 left in the first quarter. It was Douglas' longest career catch.
--QB Cody Green's three touchdown passes marked the fourth time in his career he's accomplished such a feat, with three of those games coming in the last half-dozen.
Next: At Oklahoma, Sept. 14
Game: LSU 56, UAB 17. It's not as if anyone expected UAB to win at LSU. But to make sure there never was any seed of an upset, LSU laid it on early and often Saturday night. LSU QB Zack Mettenberger passed for five touchdowns, a LSU single-game record, in the rout. LSU led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Takeaway: It came in a loss, sure, but you're beginning to see WR Jamarcus Nelson and QB Austin Brown develop quite the rapport.
Nelson had 199 receiving yards in UAB's opening-week loss to Troy and caught his 11th career receiving touchdown in the loss to LSU. Brown, playing in his 14th game, passed the 3,000-yard mark in the loss at LSU.
--Freshman RB Jordan Howard made his UAB debut, and the results were encouraging. He ran 14 times for 60 yards.
--Another RB, Darrin Reaves, scored UAB's first points of the game. The touchdown, with 11:11 left in the second quarter, was the 16th of Reaves' UAB career.
Next: Northwestern State, Sept. 21
Game: New Mexico 42, UTEP 35 (OT). The Lobos ruined the debut of UTEP coach Sean Kugler, winning in overtime on Kasey Carrier's 21-yard touchdown run. New Mexico did a lot of running, racking up 395 yards on the ground.
Takeaway: UTEP appears to be set on offense, what with the 35 points, the 399 total yards and 22 first downs. But the Miners have a considerable amount of work to do on defense.
New Mexico did it almost all on the ground, collecting 395 of its 483 yards rushing. That was by design; the Lobos only attempted seven passes.
"They (New Mexico) did an excellent job rushing the ball; that?s what they do," UTEP coach Sean Kugler said. "We knew they rushed for over 300 yards a game last season so it was going to be an extreme challenge for us and they did an outstanding job. My hats off to them."
--RB Nathan Jeffrey was stuffed on fourth-and-one in overtime, allowing New Mexico to get the win. But that shouldn't overshadow what he's done recently. Dating back to last season, he has scored nine touchdowns in his last five games.
--DB Traun Robertson had a game-best 13 stops and forced a fumble. Most impressive? He did it playing with a dislocated wrist.
Next: At New Mexico State, Sept. 14
Game: Oklahoma State 56, UTSA 35. In a game full of offense, Oklahoma State's was, unsurprisingly, better. OSU starter J.W. Walsh burned the Roadrunners for 326 yards and four touchdowns on 24-of-27 passing. It overshadowed a 504-yard day from UTSA's offense in defeat.
Takeaway: UTSA can move the ball, even if much of that did come in the fourth quarter after Oklahoma State had pulled most of its starters. But it has to come to some comfort for UTSA coach Larry Coker to know just how potent his offense has the potential of being when it comes to Conference USA competition.
UTSA's 504 yards of offense were a school record.
--WR Kenny Bias has career highs in receiving yards (96) and touchdowns (two).
--Reserve QB Tucker Carter played for the first time. He completed six of his nine pass attempts for 61 yards and a score.
Next: At Arizona, Sept. 14
NCAAF Team Report - Tulsa - NOTES, QUOTES
--Marshall has scored 50-plus points in back-to-back games for the first time since 1996, which was the Herd's final season in the old Division I-AA. Rakeem Cato and Tommy Shuler's offensive connection continues to impress.
--Middle Tennessee State received $850,000 to play at North Carolina, which the Daily News Journal reported was the largest MTSU guarantee in school history.
--Southern Miss coach Todd Monken was far from thrilled with his team's 56-13 loss to Nebraska, especially with how it started. But he expressed some degree of optimism about how the game continued for some of his younger players who will ultimately build the foundation of his program at USM. "We did certain things better, but obviously it wasn't the end result. We came up here to win." he said.
--Give credit to UTSA, which did, well, let coach Larry Coker tell it: "We had 31 first downs, 369 passing yards, 504 total yards and 34 minutes total possession. If you had told me that before the game started, I would have slept a lot better last night." So now UTSA knows it can move the ball, even if some of that came in garbage time against Oklahoma State.
--Tulane coach Curtis Johnson may have discovered a motivation problem with his team, considering how it came out flat against South Alabama. "We talked about it all week long. The most desperate team is going to win this game," he said. "I thought they were a lot more desperate than us. We didn't really do much in the first half and then our eyes opened up in the second half."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Take care of the football. Take care of the football. Take care of the football. We didn't do that." -- North Texas coach Dan McCarney on his team's 27-21 loss at Ohio.
NCAAF Team Report - Tulsa - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 2 IN CONFERENCE USA:
1. It's worth considering the opponents, sure. But Marshall has given up just 141 rushing yards in its first two games combined -- against Miami (Ohio) and Gardner-Webb. For all that is said about the Thundering Herd's offense and Rakeem Cato, this might be Marshall's most useful aspect going forward, if it can keep it up.
2. Louisiana Tech's running back situation now has intrigue. If Kenneth Dixon, who injured his knee in the Bulldogs' 27-14 win over Lamar, can't go this week against Tulane, Tech will turn to Tevin King. That's OK, considering he was the starter last year until injury forced him to the sideline. Dixon was a freshman All-American last year, which gives Skip Holtz nice options in a run game as his passing game continues to find its way with a new quarterback.
3. It might not look like it given Colorado State's 27 points, but Tulsa's defense played a huge hand in its win a week after an embarrassing 34-point outing at Bowling Green. Colorado State's 113 passing yards was the smallest total allowed by Tulsa in three years, since the Hurricane kept an inept Memphis team to 82 yards in a 48-7 win.
4. Tulane doesn't appear ready to make the big jump into the top half of Conference USA, at least not anytime soon. Not when you fall behind early and lose to South Alabama at home. Nick Montana, the son of Joe Montana, brings promise to the Green Wave, but there are bigger issues to fix for second-year coach Curtis Johnson.
5. Logan Kilgore is a really, really big deal to Middle Tennessee State. Obvious, right? He threw three interceptions the week after suffering a shoulder injury, and now coach Rick Stockstill is wondering how a two-quarterback system would work. Not out of promise, mind you, but necessity. Middle's fortunes would increase dramatically if Kilgore can become healthy, and soon.