Tulsa comes in to challenge struggling Tigers

Friday, October 20th 2006, 11:30 am
By: News On 6

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ Coach Tommy West realizes one key problem with his Memphis Tigers. They can't make the big play when the game is on the line.

The most dramatic example came last week when the Tigers lost their fourth straight game when a desperation pass by Arkansas State with time expiring turned into a 53-yard touchdown and a 26-23 victory for the Indians.

``You have to make your play and win the game, and it's very disappointing that we couldn't make our play,'' West said.

Now the Tigers (1-5, 0-2 Conference USA) must ignore that nightmare and losing four games by six points or fewer to deal with Tulsa, one of the best teams in Conference USA, on Saturday. The Golden Hurricane (5-1, 2-0) has lost only at BYU, are enjoying their best start in 24 years and are ranked 25th in the BCS poll.

Their 2-0 conference record has them tied with UTEP atop C-USA's West Division.

``They are the opposite of what we've been so far,'' West said of the Golden Hurricane. ``They're playing with a lot of confidence right now. When you lose, those errors get magnified because every play is so critical. ... Tulsa has great confidence on both sides of the ball.''

Tulsa has won 12 of 14 games since last October.

``I've gotten far too much credit for what's taken place here at Tulsa,'' coach Steve Kragthorpe said. ``It's been a collaborative effort on the part of a lot of people, and you have to look no further than our players.''

Tulsa ranks second in the country in pass defense, giving up only 115 yards a game. The Golden Hurricane also allow only 263 yards of total offense a game, which also tops C-USA and is good for 14th nationally.

Offensively, Tulsa has averaged 243 yards on the ground in the last two games _ wins over East Carolina and Southern Mississippi. Courtney Tennial had 88 yards rushing against East Carolina, and Paul Smith was 15-for-21 for 154 yards in the 31-10 win over the Pirates.

``I thought he made good decisions,'' Kragthorpe said.

The same can't be said of the Tigers, who are 0-4 in games decided in the fourth quarter this season. Compare that to last year when they were 5-3 in such games.

``Games come down to the fourth quarter, and right now, we're not getting it done in the fourth quarter,'' West said.

First, the problem was defense, but West canned coordinator Joe Lee Dunn after the third game and took over those duties. The result, even with a simplified approach, has not been much better. And now, there are so many injuries that West has to read from a cheat sheet to remember them all.

Now an offense that showed some promise early has stalled. The running game was never really effective, and in recent games quarterback Martin Hankins has gotten out of rhythm with his passing. He was 12-of-27 for 178 yards and missed or overthrew receivers on several occasions against Arkansas State.

Tulsa expects to see the unexpected. Memphis is becoming known for misdirection, razzle-dazzle and any other formation the Tigers think might fool opponents.

``They could make a trick play reel of what they do. You're going to see speed sweeps, speed sweep reverse, speed sweep reverse pass, speed sweep reverse pass throw back to the quarterback screen. You're going to see it all,'' Kragthorpe said.

``I can't even say them all there are so many of them.''