Tulsa tries to rebound from worst season since 1954

Tuesday, August 13th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ The Tulsa Golden Hurricane spent the offseason learning lessons from their worst season since 1954 _ and then trying to put it behind them.

There was much to learn and even more to forget.

Tulsa finished 1-10 (0-8 Western Athletic Conference) in the second year of coach Keith Burns' five-year rebuilding plan that saw the program regress following his 5-7 inaugural season.

With the WAC's most listless offense and a defense that yielded more than 35 points per game, the Golden Hurricane lost their final 10 games after beating Division I-AA Indiana State in the opener.

``In my coaching career, it took me 18 years to take a whipping like I did last year, so I'm betting on the other 17,'' said Burns, a former assistant at Southern California and Arkansas. ``This is a new time, a new season, a new opportunity. And every season brings change.''

Burns shuffled his coaching staff, hiring Dan Lounsbury as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and taking over the defense himself.

Lounsbury, a former Texas Christian assistant, is charged with injecting serum in an offense that mustered just 17.4 points per game last season and ranked last in the WAC in passing efficiency.

He installed a multiple-formation offense to overcome a shortage of skill-position players and stressed a rigorous offseason workout aimed at toughening the Hurricane in the trenches.

``That's one of the things we want out of our kids is a tough, physical attitude,'' said Lounsbury, adding that Tulsa will run a little more than pass this season. ``We want to grind on you. We want to stay with it so long that eventually you're going to get tired of us being there.''

A healthy Tyler Gooch at quarterback should help.

In two of the three games Gooch started and finished last year, the Hurricane averaged nearly 30 points and about 500 yards of offense in losses to Rice and San Jose State.

But Gooch, who rushed for more than 100 yards in both games, was knocked out early in his other three starts, when Tulsa averaged just 10 points, and entirely out of two more games.

Tulsa also needs more consistency from running back Eric Richardson, who rushed for 119 yards in an early contest against Fresno State but struggled with a pinched nerve thereafter.

``If he can capture what he had at Fresno State and the performance he put forward and be consistent with it, there's no doubt he can be one of the lead runners in our league,'' Burns said.

Burns, who led defenses at Arkansas and USC before coming to Tulsa, takes over a unit that surrendered 446.7 yards per game and was last in the league in pass efficiency defense and takeaways.

``What we've got to do defensively is be one step better than we were a year ago and create turnovers,'' Burns said. ``We only had seven interceptions in a passing league. That's not acceptable.''

Burns has been showing film of Arkansas teams successfully running his defense, in hopes they will convince Tulsa players that the system works.

``I think with the hard work this summer, we'll really stop the run this year,'' said defensive tackle Sam Rayburn, Tulsa's returning sacks leader. ``We're really focusing on stopping the run. We got gashed quite a few times'' last season.

Burns will find out soon if his team is improved. The season begins Aug. 30 at home against the cross-state Sooners on national television.

``Oklahoma is the best team in the country,'' Burns said. ``We're getting a chance to play in front of the entire country. We'll find about our football team.''

Gooch, whose hold on the quarterback job is firmly established after Josh Blankenship's transfer to Eastern Washington, is confident.

``This season's going to be a lot different,'' Gooch said. ``I don't want to talk about it. I want to show it.''