Scouting report: Tulsa defense

Tulsa's defensive statistics aren't pretty, but the Golden Hurricane have played a brutal schedule this season against four top 10 teams – losing to all four – and have gone up against some of the nation's most prolific offenses. Meanwhile, Tulsa's defensive coordinator is very familiar with BYU.

Tulsa played a whopping four different teams this season in the top 10 nationally in points per game: Houston (first with 50.8), Oklahoma State (second with 49.3), Boise State (fifth with 44.2) and Oklahoma (10th with 40.3). All four teams are also in the top 10 in yards per game, and three of them are in the top four in that category.

It's no wonder that Tulsa's defense has struggled at times.

Tulsa is 89th in total defense, having given up 420.7 yards per game, and 67th in scoring defense, having allowed 27.6 points per game. While Tulsa is 37th in rushing defense with 131.3 rushing yards allowed per game, the Golden Hurricane are a woeful 118th out of 120 teams in passing defense, having given up 289.3 yards through the air per game.

But, those numbers are somewhat skewed by going up against some of the nation's elite offenses and quarterbacks. Tulsa allowed an average of 48.7 points in its four losses, but only an average of 17 points in its eight victories.

Led by defensive coordinator Brent Guy – formerly Utah State's head coach – Tulsa runs a 4-3 scheme and went seven consecutive games without allowing more than 28 points until facing Houston in the regular-season finale.

"Tulsa's defense is very solid and improving," said Coach Mendenhall. "Brent Guy, when he was at Utah State, always played us well defensively and had experience with our system, and so there'll be a familiarity there, and I think they're gaining some momentum in the way they're playing."

Personnel

Tulsa features a tackling machine in 6-foot-1-inch, 230-pound senior middle linebacker Curnelius Arnick, who has a remarkable 142 tackles this season. He's tied for sixth nationally with 11.8 tackles per game, and has eight sacks this season to add to his resume.

"He's a really good player, and the scheme is good and they're well-coached," said Mendenhall.

Meanwhile, 6-foot-3-inch, 273-pound senior defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker has 12.5 tackles for a loss.

Coach Mendenhall said Tulsa's speed and athleticism on defense stands out more than its size, and described the defense as "speed-oriented."

Quarterback Riley Nelson echoed those sentiments.

"[Up front] they're not big, huge guys who are kind of just gap-blockers. They more rely on quickness and skill and agility up front, so we look forward to that advantage. Our offensive line is bigger than their defensive line, but their defensive line might have the advantage of quickness, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out."

Nelson, a Utah State transfer, actually played for Brent Guy as a true freshman in 2006. The Cougar quarterback said he hasn't talked to Guy since 2008.

"[I] look forward to see him and talking with him," Nelson said about Guy. "He had a big influence on me in my first year of college football and coming out of high school and facing those challenges, and was a great man who I admire and respect."

Nelson did get experience going up against a Brent Guy defense all the way back during fall camp in 2006, but he wasn't getting a lot of reps at the time. By the time Nelson took over the starting job at Utah State, he was then going up against the scout team instead of the first-team defense.

"On top of that, I was a punk kid fresh out of high school and barely knew what cover-three was," Nelson said half-jokingly.

As for Tulsa's secondary, Nelson said it is similar schematically to what San Jose State and Hawaii presented this year.

"They stay within their schemes," said Nelson. "They don't try and add a lot of bells and whistles to what they do. They run basic zone and man coverages. They do a pretty good job of disguising them. "

According to Nelson, Tulsa will run different zone packages out of the same look, which can create some confusion for quarterbacks.

Both 6-foot, 180-pound senior cornerback Milton Howell and 6-foot-4-inch, 222-pound junior safety Dexter McCoil have a team-high four interceptions.

Tulsa is tied for 30th nationally in takeaways with 26.

Playing against the Tulsa defense will provide BYU an opportunity to compare itself to some of the nation's best offenses.

"We started off this year slow, but the second half of the season we feel like in a lot of categories that our numbers were at least comparable," said Nelson, "… and of course if we can't execute at the same level as those teams, we can take pride in the fact that we're getting better at least and progressing and gaining momentum into next year."

Nelson expressed optimism about the offense's chances in the Armed Forces Bowl.

"We're excited. We think we match up well with them, and are excited for the competitive opportunity."


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