Inside Navy versus Tulsa

Ken Denlinger, one of the great sportswriters at The Washington Post, told me once about trying to interview a major college football coach over the phone in the 1970s. The coach did him one better and invited him to come to town for a couple days.

The coach had just lined up a recruiting class that included three high school all-American running backs. All three stayed four years and later played in the NFL; one won the Heisman.

Yet Denlinger said two things struck him about the trip. One was that the coach was open and friendly enough to extend the invitation, and come good on it.

But the main thing was that, despite the obvious talent in the incoming class, the coach spent most of the two days talking about how disappoined he was not to have landed Earl Campbell in that class.

I was reminded of the story this week, because it is germaine to Saturday's game and a sign of how times have changed. Tulsa junior RB Courtney Tennial (13 carries, 73 yards, 2 TDs) rushed for an Oklahoma high school record 3,426 yards as a senior at Glenpool high school. He led his team to the 4A state title.

He originally signed at Oklahoma. Adrian Peterson came a year later, and it started a snowball effect: No more waiting around behind the star. Tennial transferred, as did another backup, Tashard Choice. He is now the starting running back at Georgia Tech.

Tennial clearly has talent and, after sitting out a year and parts of the first three games (they were rotating the backs), I imagine he will be hungry, too. Navy had best be ready.

Tulsa runs a one-back, two-tight end set as its base offense; it uses a tight end as a fullback when it needs one (there are no fullbacks per se on the roster).

Tulsa has the most experienced offensive line in the nation--it includes a four-year starter, two three-year starters and a two-year starter. The battle up front should be great to watch, especially if Tulsa sends linemen toward Caldwell, Sovie, Mahoney or Tidwell. (I'm not sure those guys can be blocked by tight ends.)

Speaking of linebackers, Tulsa has a ton of them. Senior Nick Bunting has 79, 88 and 85 tackles in his first three years (he started as a freshman). Nelson Coleman leads the team with 24 tackles this year and had 117 last year. They also have a highly-regarded JuCo linebacker named Alain Karatepeyan (14 tackles).

Last week, Stanford's four leading tacklers were in the secondary. This week, three of Tulsa's four leading tacklers are linebackers.

My best guess on offense is the fullback option will work. I think Ballard is quicker than the middle linebacker (Bunting) and if everything else is blocked, Bunting will struggle to beat Ballard to the outside. I think the passes where Hampton goes down the line before pulling back and passing will work, too, since those plays freeze the linebackers.

Hampton's lack of touch hurt against ECU and UMass, but I think this is a game where his toughness will really come in handy. He is going to get hit, but it appears from the ECU game that it does not bother him. The play where the QB fakes the ball to Ballard, then follows him into the hole, may also work since I imagine the Golden Hurricane are keying on No. 22 and they dont often see quarterbacks who are willing to run into the teeth of the defense.

Against ECU, Navy attacked the front seven. Against Stanford they went after the secondary with the 11 passes. Now I think it's time to see what the Mids can do against some very good linebackers.

Thanks for reading!

Christian Top Stories