The Golden Hurricane will play its first prime-time game of the season Saturday night when Fresno State brings its high-powered offense to Tulsa. In a reunion of two old WAC foes, the Hurricane and Bulldogs come into this game each ranked near the top of FBS football in most offensive categories. Both teams come in averaging over 500 yards of offense and around 45 points per game.
While the offenses should shine brightly, don't underestimate the impact of the defense and special teams units. It could be a play from one of them that makes the difference in this one. Let's take a look at how these two teams match up, and who has the advantage at each key position.
This one is very tough. Both Derek Carr and Cody Green were four-star recruits out of high school, and both are intriguing NFL prospects. Green is the better athlete, but Tulsa doesn't seem too interested in utilizing his ability to run. Carr had a terrific season in 2011 and is off to another hot start in 2012. Green is off to a strong start this season as well, but he needs to prove it over the length of the season to move past Carr.
This matchup will be fun to watch, as the two schools employ different philosophies to the running game. Fresno will pretty much use just one guy, while Tulsa spreads out the carries. Fresno's feature back Robbie Rouse is one of the best running backs in the country, and as I mentioned, he will get a vast majority of the carries. Tulsa's Ja'Terian Douglas is another sensational back, but he has help. Trey Watts gets a heavy dose of carries as well as providing a reliable receiving target out of the backfield. Alex Singleton has emerged as the goal line specialist for TU, scoring five touchdowns in the past two games, all of which have come from inside three yards. Rouse is a complete stud and that just became Fresno's all-time rushing leader, but even he can't match the production of Tulsa's three-headed monster.
The Bulldogs' passing attack focuses on three main outlets: freshman wide receiver Davante Adams, junior wide receiver Isaiah Burse, and of course, Robbie Rouse. Adams and Burse have combined for 39 catches for just over 550 yards and five touchdowns so far this season, while the rest of the wideouts have combined for just 13 grabs and starting tight end Marcel Jensen only has two catches.
Despite losing Senior Bryan Burnham for the season, Tulsa's receivers have looked good the past two weeks. The core is led by sophomores Keyarris Garrett and Thomas Roberson. Junior Jordan James has also made his presence felt this season, and TU is still waiting for Willie Carter to get going. Carter's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield has been a vital weapon for Tulsa in the past, and perhaps his touchdown reception on Saturday will be what he needs to get going in 2012. This matchup is pretty tough to call, but the loss of Burnham slightly pushes me to the side of the Bulldogs.
Both teams have done an excellent job of pass blocking this season, with Fresno only allowing four sacks and Tulsa only three. Both lines have kept the penalty totals fairly low, and both have run-blocked exceptionally well. It's drawing straws here, but Tulsa's linemen have paved the way for an incredible 6.4 yards-per-carry so far this season, over a still-impressive 5.7 for Fresno, so the slightest of edges goes to the Hurricane.
Defensive Front Seven:
The Hurricane front seven has 17 sacks so far this season, and held Tulane to just seven yards rushing. They also held Iowa State to just 3.6 yards-per-carry in Ames. The head-scratcher came when they allowed 222 yards on the ground to lowly Nicholls State, but I'll give them a pass considering it's hard to get too fired up on defense for an opponent that bad, but that performance certainly can't afford to be repeated.
Fresno comes in with 11 sacks and a run defense that looked solid in two of their three games. Their statistics are a little inflated by the 366 rushing yards they allowed at Oregon, but in reality, Oregon does that to just about everybody. Fresno has the best player on either unit in linebacker Travis Brown, but Tulsa's performance this season has been too good to pick against.
This is one of the easier picks of the group. Tulsa has one of the best safety combinations in the country with Marco Nelson and Dexter McCoil. Fresno's secondary has played well so far this season, but can't match the talent of Tulsa's safety duo.
TU freshman Daniel Shwarz has missed a field goal and had an extra point blocked, while Fresno freshman Quentin Breshears is 5-5 and hasn't missed a PAT. Tulsa's Cole Way has had some momentum-changing punts so far this season (sounds funny, but true) but Andrew Shapiro has been solid for the Bulldogs as well. Both teams have been pretty good in coverage as well as the return game. I hate doing this, but…