HUNTINGTON - With its depth of skill players and dizzying variety of formations, Tulsa has consistently boasted one of Conference USA's most explosive offenses.It has been no different this season. In fact, when the Golden Hurricane visits Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Saturday, it will bring the top-scoring offense in Conference USA to battle against the league's No. 1 yardage gainer in Marshall.But as Thundering Herd coach Doc Holliday warns, it is foolish to consider the Hurricane a finesse team. A few choice numbers back that up - Tulsa leads C-USA in rushing offense and rushing defense, and leads the nation in sacks (26 in five games) and tackles for loss (53)."They're very physical," Holliday said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "Their offensive line is very physical; at center they've got a Rimington [Award] candidate [Trent Dupy]. They're big and they're physical - even their wideouts, they're big, physical guys. They're physical at every position, and we've got to make sure we have to be physical, too, on both sides of the ball."
Tulsa is not necessarily block-the-sun big, and definitely not as big as Purdue, the Herd's previous opponent. Dupy is 6-foot-2, 285 pounds, sandwiched between guards Jake Alexander (6-2, 294) and Stetson Burnett (6-4, 303). The top tackles are Jared Grigg (6-4, 280) and Brian Deshane (6-3, 305).Big humans, but not as big as Purdue's line. Around them, there are some big dogs running around.Those include change-of-pace running back Alex Singleton (6-1, 260), quarterback Cody Green (6-4, 247), do-it-all H-back Willie Carter (6-2, 231), tight end Charlie Copa (6-3, 259) and a receiving corps with 6-4 Keyarris Garrett, two 6-3 men and a 6-2.Defensively, end Correy Dorris (6-4, 275), tackle Daeshon Bufford (6-3, 292), linebacker Shawn Jackson (6-2, 251) and star safety Dexter McCoil (6-4, 222) have good size for their positions, but that's not what that defense is all about.Those 26 sacks and 53 tackles for loss might tip you off."About 50 percent of the time, they're coming after you, in some way, shape or form," Holliday said. "Whether it would be pressure from the edges, the 'backers or whatever, but they put a lot of pressure on the offense as far as the blitz is concerned."And their defensive guys, they move around a lot because of the blitz packages they have."Kickoff time is 3:30 p.m., with the game airing on CBS Sports Network. It will be Marshall's homecoming game.In Tulsa's two conference wins, against Tulane and Alabama-Birmingham, it yielded a combined 8 yards rushing. Accounting for a good chunk of that were the 15 sacks for a combined 116 yards in losses.On the other side of the ball, the Hurricane has run for a conference-high 244.8 yards per game. It struggled to rush for 126 yards against Fresno and grinded out 160 against Iowa State, but struck for 364 and 241 against Tulane and UAB, respectively.And Holliday drops this hint: A good chunk of Tulsa's passing game is screen passes; some call it glorified rushing. Top back Trey Watts and Carter are third and fourth on the team in receptions, combining for 28.
"A lot of those big, quick strikes they've had are on screens, which are similar to runs," Holliday said. "They've thrown screens out there to Watts and he's taken them 60, 70, 40 yards [actual season high: 40]."Marshall's rushing defense has been up and down - West Virginia romped for 331 yards, Rice 301 and Ohio 199. But Purdue, with a burly offensive line, ran for just 149 on 53 carries last weekend, an average of less than 3.0 yards."We try to take the positives out of the Purdue game and carry it over into this week," Holliday said. "I thought the defense, in the second half, made some strides. We have to build on that, we have to get better, because it's going to be a great challenge."BrieflyHolliday gave another "everyone's fine" injury report, which included himself. He sported nine stitches on his right cheek, the result of his (literal) run-in with an official during the Herd's blocked punt for a touchdown against Purdue. ... Right tackle Garrett Scott's ankle problems flared up again at Purdue, and receiver Antavious Wilson missed the second half of that game. Defensive end Ra'Shawde Myers and cornerback Travon Van didn't make that trip. ... The coach confirmed that Justin's Haig's missed extra point was indeed a blocked kick, which Purdue's stat crew credited to big tackle Kawann Short. "It wasn't [bad] protection; he's just got to get the ball up," Holliday said.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com.