Tulsa Confident, Embracing Underdog Role Against Sooners

Wednesday, September 19th 2007, 3:36 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Tulsa comes into Friday's game against No. 4 Oklahoma a three touchdown underdog. And it seems that's just the way first-year coach Todd Graham likes it.

``Them being undefeated, and us being undefeated, and probably not many people giving us a chance,'' Graham said this week. ``That's just where we want to be.''

In fact, ask the coach if he has any big-game jitters and he'll confess that he was more nervous playing Louisiana-Monroe in last month's season opener.

``I'm supposed to win that one,'' he joked of the 35-17 victory.

Friday night, the Golden Hurricane (2-0) will try to defeat Oklahoma (3-0) for the first time since 1996.

Tulsa came close two years ago in Norman, sticking with the Sooners into the fourth quarter before losing 31-15. But Graham, then Tulsa's defensive coordinator, remembers players being surprised at how they were able to keep up with the Sooners for so long in that game.

``The biggest comment I had at halftime in 2005 was, 'man, we can play with these guys,''' Graham said.

For many Tulsa players, Friday's game is a chance to prove something.

``It's not hard for the kids on our roster who come from this state and from Texas, especially the Dallas area, to get excited and motivated to play OU,'' Graham said.

Defensive back Steve Craver played in the 2005 contest, racking up five tackles, two sacks and an interception. He said the 2007 rematch is a chance to ``seize the moment.''

``We're anxious to show people that we belong in the same category as the OUs and the OSUs and people that are real good in college football,'' Craver said. ``I feel very confident in this weekend.''

But how about the OU intimidation factor?

``You can't get scared of moments like this,'' said quarterback Paul Smith, who passed for a career-best 454 yards and five touchdowns last weekend against Brigham Young University. ``There's a lot of people in the crowd or watching on TV that would love to be in your shoes, so why would you want to be in theirs when you got an opportunity like this?''

Tulsa's 55-47 win over BYU was a confidence-booster, but Graham was quick to point out what needed improvement. Despite the team's offensive fireworks, Tulsa almost squandered the game due to poor special teams coverage, giving up 27 points in the second quarter alone.

Graham said Friday's game will let Tulsa find out ``exactly how good we are.''

``By no means have we arrived or are we anywhere close to where we need to be,'' he said. ``We're not dominating anybody that we've played so far.

``We're going to play a whole bunch of close football games this year, and for us to win them, we've got to continue to improve and get better,'' he said.