Balls could fly in Rice-Tulsa contest

Friday, September 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- An offensive showdown between Rice and Tulsa on Saturday could pit grind-it-out ball control against passing aplenty as the two open Western Athletic Conference play before a television audience.

Tulsa (0-2) will likely rely on quarterback Josh Blankenship and a receiving corps led by Donald Shoals, who's ranked fifth nationally with 114 yards a game.

Rice (1-1) has had 362 yards on the ground and counts on a ball-control offense it hopes will grind out yardage and consume the clock, Tulsa coach Keith Burns said.

That could mean less possession time for Tulsa, so the Golden Hurricane offense will have to make its possessions count, said Shoals, who caught nine passes for 151 yards in a 36-26 loss to Oklahoma State last week.

"I think our passing is almost unstoppable," Shoals said.

While Tulsa has found success with its passing game, the Golden Hurricane has failed thus far to mount an effective ground game.

Rice coach Ken Hatfield said this week his team must pressure Blankenship and give the second-year starter different defensive looks.

While the Owls' defense has played well against the run, opposing quarterbacks have thrown for more than 500 yards against the Rice secondary. Blankenship has 587 yards in the air.

"We have seen some pretty good quarterbacks and some good passing games in Houston and Michigan, and we'll see another one equally as good," Hatfield said. "Blankenship is an outstanding quarterback, the newcomer of the year in the WAC last year."

The Owls can compensate some by getting turnovers, he said.

Rice has spread the ball around with its spread option and quarterback Ben Wulf is giving Hatfield reason to feel good about the Owls offense.

Wulf passed for 74 yards and rushed for 43 against Michigan, making him the Owls' leading ground gainer in a 38-7 loss last week at Ann Arbor.

"He's done everything we've asked of him here," Hatfield said.

"You can't get any more exciting than the fourth-team quarterback coming off the bench and throwing a 68-yard touchdown pass. Then you rush for 32 yards on a good option play."

Rice was also powered by the running of Adrian Sadler, who moved from a cornerback spot in the spring. Sadler had 21 yards on the ground last week and caught the touchdown pass from Wulf.

Despite the Owls ball-control scheme, Burns said he isn't taking the Rice passing game lightly. Rice quarterbacks connected for long completions in a 30-27 overtime win against crosstown rival Houston in the season opener, Burns said.

Burns said he never takes Hatfield's coaching ability lightly, either. Burns worked as a graduate assistant under Hatfield at Arkansas.

"He certainly knows when and how to play the football," Burns said.

HURRICANE NOTES: The Tulsa-Rice game is scheduled to be televised at 2:30 p.m. on Fox Sport Net. Besides the reunion of Hatfield and Burns, the game marks Burns' return to Rice, where he was a defensive assistant from 1989 to 1992.