Marshall Opponents, Game 6: Tulsa

Here is another preview of one of Marshall's football opponents for 2007 from ( The Tulsa Golden Hurricane will be the fourth away game for the Herd in the first six contests of the season, a first-ever meeting between TU and MU. New coach Todd Graham will try to continue the success of former coach Steve Kragthorpe this year.

After a hectic off-season for the Tulsa Golden Hurricane that witnessed the departure of popular former head coach Steve Kragthorpe and a dozen starters, Tulsa may be a program in transition, but its direction remains the same—north. Losing Kragthorpe to Louisville certainly hurt, but the program recovered about as quickly and seamlessly as possible, hiring Todd Graham away from Rice. This is the same Graham who was Tulsa's defensive coordinator from 2003-2005, and who recruited many of the players on this year's defense. It's also the same Graham who's a year removed from earning Conference USA Coach of the Year honors after miraculously guiding Rice to its first bowl game in 45 years.

Head coach: Todd Graham, 1st year and 2nd year overall: 7-6
Returning Lettermen: Offense-14, Defense-19 and Special Teams-3
Lettermen Lost: 13

Ten Best Tulsa Players:
1. LB Nelson Coleman, Sr.
2. QB Paul Smith, Sr.
3. RB Courtney Tennial, Sr.
4. LB Chris Chamberlain, Sr.
5. NG Terrel Nemons, Jr.
6. S Anthony Germany, Sr.
7. CB Roy Roberts, Jr.
8. RB Tarrion Adams, Jr.
9. S Steve Craver, Sr.
10. PK Jarod Tracy, Jr.

2007 Schedule:
Aug. 30 at UL Monroe WON 35-17
Sept. 15 BYU WON 55-47
Sept. 21 OklahomaLOST 21-62
Sept. 29 UAB* WON 38-30
Oct. 6 at UTEP* LOST 47-48
Oct. 13 Marshall*
Oct. 20 at Central Florida*
Oct. 27 SMU*
Nov. 3 at Tulane*
Nov. 10 Houston*
Nov. 17 at Army
Nov. 24 at Rice*

2006 Schedule:
2006 Results: 8-5
8/31 St. F. Austin W 45-7
9/9 at BYU L 49-24
9/16 North Texas W 28-3
9/23 at Navy W 24-23 OT
10/3 Southern Miss* W 20-6
10/14 at East Carolina* W 31-10
10/21 at Memphis* W 35-14
10/27 UTEP* W 30-20
11/4 at Houston* L 27-10
11/11 Rice* L 41-38 2OT
11/18 at SMU* L 34-24
11/24 Tulane* W 38-3
12/23 Armed Forces Bowl vs. Utah L 25-13
*Conference USA games

Joining Graham at Tulsa will be co-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, a mad scientist who gained national notoriety last year despite never getting a chance to implement his no-huddle spread attack at Arkansas. This year, however, the shackles come off his playbook, meaning the Hurricane offense may never again be the same. Beyond the potential for installing a high-powered offense, Malzahn is one of those charismatic figures who's going to pay immediate dividends on the recruiting trail. There's still plenty of work to be done. Aside from the new staff, the offensive line must replace four pillars, the receiving corps will be without last year's top three pass catchers and the defense will be breaking in five new starters. However, this is still one of the league's top two or three programs. Graham has already taken Rice to a postseason game, so, comparatively speaking, keeping the Hurricane on its current path will be a snap.

What to watch for on offense: Philosophically, Graham and Malzahn are on the same page, a luxury for the entire program. They want to spread the field, pressure the defense and play faster than anyone in the nation. Huddles will be abolished. Although he may not have ideal arm strength for the system, returning senior quarterback Paul Smith will be a godsend. He's a veteran of 34 games who moves well out of the pocket, knows how to win and is always well prepared. No returning receiver caught more than eight balls last year, meaning the wraps will come off sophomore Jesse Meyer, who's big enough to handle contact in tight spaces. The running tandem of Courtney Tennial and Tarrion Adams gives Tulsa balance and a pair of backs capable of moving piles in short yardage.

What to watch for on defense: The defense will be a work-in-progress in September, but Graham's presence and a solid group of holdovers will help immensely. Led by Nelson Coleman and Chris Chamberlain, the linebackers are big, aggressive and have terrific lateral quickness. They'll be counted on to assist a pass rush that was impotent a year ago and once again lacks the edge rushers to disrupt opposing quarterbacks. On the inside, Terrel Nemons is a 6-4, 345-pound nose guard with the raw power and limitless potential to blossom into a run-stuffing force as a junior.

The team will be far better if: a decimated offensive line that lost five seniors and two all-league stalwarts can rebuild in a hurry. In the spread offense, the quarterback already has minimal protection, so it's imperative that the new starters provide Smith with enough time to make plays downfield.

The Schedule: If Tulsa is even remotely decent, it should be able to walk through the season to a spot in the Conference USA title game. You could do a lot worse than playing UCF and UAB from the East, while a tough date with Marshall is at home. The West showdowns against Houston and SMU are in Tulsa, and there aren't two consecutive road games until the season finales against Army and Rice. The non-conference schedule is interesting with the easy ones (Army and UL Monroe) on the road and the nasty games (BYU and Oklahoma) at home.

Best Offensive Player: Junior QB Paul Smith. A rock-solid leader of the offense over the last two seasons, Smith has to be even better with his top receivers gone. He has to make everyone around him better, and he has to be even quicker with his decision-making. While he might not put up the numbers to be the Conference USA Player of the Year, if he leads Tulsa to the title, he'll deserve the honor.

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Nelson Coleman. With 215 tackles over the last two seasons, Coleman has been the leader of the defense and the team's top run stopper. Quick enough to play on the outside if needed, he proved last year to be better on the inside. Now he has to make more plays in the backfield and be even more disruptive.

Key player to a successful season: Junior DE Moton Hopkins. Tulsa didn't do nearly enough to be disruptive last year, and now under the new coaching staff, needs someone like Hopkins to become a force. After a good freshman season, Hopkins bulked up to be stronger against the run. Unfortunately, he became worse at getting into the backfield and didn't show enough pass-rushing ability to pressure any quarterback. That has to change.

The season will be a success if: Tulsa wins the West. The schedule works out as well as could be asked for, and the coaching staff will be motivated to prove they can keep Kragthorpe's momentum going. If replacements can be found on the interior of the offensive line and a few new receiving targets can quickly emerge, a second Conference USA title in three years is possible.

Key game: Nov. 10 vs. Houston. It might be a one-game season for a shot at the Conference USA title. With a manageable league road slate and SMU at home, all Tulsa needs to do is win the games it's supposed to and beat Houston to represent the West. The Cougars have won both times the two have met in league play.

2006 Fun Stats:
- First quarter score: Tulsa 62; Opponents 24
- Red zone touchdowns: Tulsa 36 of 48 (75%); Opponents 23 of 45 (51%)
- Fumbles: Tulsa 23 (lost 10); Opponents 15 (lost 6)

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