Conference USA notebook: Tulsa has league's best nonconference win
In a September in which Conference USA teams have been largely pushed around, Tulsa scored what might be the best league's best nonconference win of the season last weekend.
The Golden Hurricane (3-1, 1-0) spotted Fresno State a 20-7 lead after the first quarter, then stormed back for a 27-26 victory. Trey Watts found Thomas Roberson for a 26-yard halfback option pass to take the lead in the third quarter, and Tulsa's defense blanked the Bulldogs over their final eight possessions.
Tulsa plays Marshall (2-2, 1-0) on Oct. 6 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The Hurricane overcame a 13-of-37, three-interception day from Cody Green. Two of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns; another set up a short-field TD drive.
Fresno came to Tulsa fresh off a 69-14 scalping of Colorado, but only managed one TD drive longer than 46 yards. Tulsa defensive back Dexter McCoil, who had 10 tackles and his 14th career interception, was named C-USA's defensive player of the week.
"They were doing a good job mixing their coverages up," said Fresno coach Tim DeRuyter. "They did a decent job pressuring the quarterback. We knew coming in that they had a good defense. That is what they do. There is a reason why they are leading the country in sacks (17), and they did a good job mixing up their coverages."
McCoil is now fifth all-time on the C-USA interception list. At the top is Louisville's Anthony Floyd, with 18 from 1999-2002.
Tulsa's victory "lifts" C-USA teams to, hold your nose, a 5-26 record against nonconference FBS opponents. Rice still owns the lone win over a BCS-level school, though it is difficult to imagine Kansas being better than Fresno State.
Tulsa will try to be the first team to go 2-0 in league play when it goes to Legion Field to play Alabama-Birmingham (0-3, 0-0). The Blazers played Ohio State tough last week before falling 29-15.
Later Saturday, East Carolina (2-2, 1-0) also will try to go to 2-0 as the Pirates play Texas-El Paso (1-3) at home.
Playing their usual schedule of regional powers, the Pirates have lost to South Carolina (48-10) and North Carolina (27-6). But with a Mike Leach disciple coaching the team, the offense has been stunningly ineffective - 18.8 points and 313 total yards per game.
Sophomore Shane Carden, filling the considerable shoes of Dominique Davis, is just eighth in the league in passing efficiency, a lukewarm 110.9. Seven sacks by North Carolina didn't help.
"Shane will readily admit at times that he needs to just get rid of the football," said ECU coach Ruffin McNeil said. "Part of that might also be on me telling him to take care of the football and not letting players just be players. I don't want him hesitating, but I also don't want him to make mistakes. So we need to find a way for him to do both."
Under previous coach Larry Fedora, Southern Mississippi's slogan was "Sound the Attack." After the first three games of the post-Fedora era, it might be "Sound the Retreat."
The Golden Eagles (0-3, 0-1) are in the unaccustomed position of being winless, one of five such C-USA teams. Last week's result, a 42-17 loss at Western Kentucky, represented an unfathomably low point.
How low was it? The Hilltoppers of the Sun Belt outgained the Eagles 560-264 and led 42-3 in the third quarter.
"I think when you're not performing well in so many different areas, you have to start back at the head coach's feet," said USM coach Ellis Johnson. "We've got to start back at square one and evaluate everything we're doing, from personnel to schemes to practice and just see what we can come up with and improve our team."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com.