Burns sees room for improvement before OSU

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

TULSA, Okla.--Tulsa coach Keith Burns talked a lot Tuesday about the need for improvement, but this time he reserved his remarks for his own team.

The first-year coach got his first real look at Tulsa's skill last week against North Carolina and the weaknesses that added up to a 30-9 opener loss. He found a team with a long way to go and a short amount of time to prepare for Oklahoma State on Saturday.

"I thought the effort was there. I thought the fight was in them. We've got to eliminate our mistakes," Burns said. "Winning starts without beating yourself."

He wasn't taking back his pre-season comments about passing up the Cowboys, who open their season in Tulsa. But Burns downplayed the impact of those remarks.

The game, he said, will be decided only by the players. Any fuel his comments may add will show up only in the first few plays, he said.

"We've got to make the most of it," Burns said. "Obviously, if we win this game, we'll look like a genius for making that statement. If we don't, we'll walk away with egg on our face. I think everybody understands that. I know I do."

Burns' biggest challenge this week may be improving a kicking game that proved costly against the Tar Heels.

Junior punter Casey Lipscomb fumbled a fourth-down snap and punted for an eight-yard loss in the first quarter, costing the Golden Hurricane momentum and position. North Carolina used the mistake to score its first touchdown.

Poor coverage by the punt team and Lipscomb's low hang times enabled North Carolina to run up its return yardage.

"We've got to shore up our kicking game. It was a detriment to our team and our success," Burns said.

Tulsa also struggled in its running game, gaining 67 yards rushing only to lose 48 of them to a pounding North Carolina defense.

Burns said he hopes Tulsa will be able to create more running lanes for backs

Ken Bohanon, Jorma Bailey and Donte Hart against Oklahoma State.

"We have to make a commitment to the run. ... If a team's going come up with a box, we've got to be able to throw a quick passing game to get the ball down the field. If they're going to spread out, then we have to be able to meet linebackers one on one and we weren't able to do that Saturday night."

Burns wasn't entirely disappointed by what he saw in North Carolina.

The Golden Hurricane defense was competitive, even though Tar Heels quarterback Ronald Curry still managed to throw for 192 yards and rush for 69. He also liked the improvement he saw in cornerback C.J. Scott.

And Burns said his team didn't quit after a miserable third quarter, coming back to score in the fourth quarter. They also returned to practice Sunday with an attitude to work on mistakes and move on.

"I think they've shown they're not going to give up and quit," Burns said.

HURRICANE NOTES:@ Tulsa linebacker Philip Abode injured his shoulder against North Carolina and is questionable against Oklahoma State. ... Kickoff is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. Saturday at Tulsa's Skelly Stadium. ... Saturday's game will be televised in the Tulsa area by Cox Communications.