TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Tulsa coach Keith Burns said Monday he remains optimistic about his team's chances in the Western Athletic Conference despite opening the season with two non-conference losses.
The Golden Hurricane faces Rice (1-1) on Saturday in Houston in the conference opener for both teams. Tulsa (0-2) lost 36-26 to in-state rival Oklahoma State last Saturday and 30-9 at North Carolina a week earlier in Burns' head coaching debut.
"We're 0-and-2 but none of that affects what we have to do Saturday," Burns said. "To be the WAC champion you have to win your WAC games and this is our first shot."
Burns said Rice has been running the ball well, despite a 38-7 loss to No. 3 Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
Rice also connected on some deep passes in an opening day win against crosstown rival Houston two weeks ago, which could spell trouble for Tulsa.
The Golden Hurricane must shore up a pass defense that allowed big plays against Oklahoma State if the team expects to win at Rice Stadium.
Oklahoma State quarterback Tony Lindsay burned the Tulsa secondary for touchdowns of 34 and 18 yards and a 9-yard touchdown pass just before the half to cap an 80-yard drive fueled by Lindsay's rushing and passing.
Tulsa's cornerbacks are under fire in practice as Burns searches for cover men who can avoid getting beat deep.
"There's going to be some competition this week at corner," he said.
The Tulsa running game has also failed to generate 100 total yards in two outings. A better running game would allow his team to take advantage of more play-action passing, Burns said.
Passing is the strength of the Tulsa offense with Josh Blankenship hitting 28-of-49 for 373 yards and two touchdowns against Oklahoma State. Donald Shoals caught nine of Blankenship's passes for 151 yards.
Burns said Blankenship, a sophomore, has the potential to become one of the nation's elite quarterbacks.
Rice head coach Ken Hatfield has taken notice. He said his defense needs to give Blankenship a different look and do what it can to throw off his timing.
"We've got the third week in a row where we'll be tested in our secondary," Hatfield said. "We need to get some pressure on Blankenship."
Despite losing to Oklahoma State, Burns said he was pleased with his team's competitive play after the loss to North Carolina.
"We're improving and we're encouraged that we are," Burns said. "What we have to do is take care of us. We've got to eliminate the self-inflicted wounds."
Burns and Hatfield face each other for the first time as head coaches and the game will be a reunion for them. Burns was a graduate assistant under Hatfield at Arkansas.
HURRICANE NOTES: Kickoff between Tulsa and Rice is set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Rice Stadium instead of 7 p.m. The time was changed so the game could be televised on Fox Sports Net.