Tulsa defenders like Shawn Jackson (left) gave futile chase to East Carolina ball-carriers such as Vintavious Cooper all day Saturday as the Pirates cruised 58-24.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- This week's Marshall at Tulsa game was supposed to be a thriller, one Fox Sports 1 insisted on moving to Thursday night.The Thundering Herd was expected to be keeping pace with Conference USA East Division favorite East Carolina. Tulsa was a near-lock to capture the West Division.Marshall (6-3, 4-1) held up its end of the deal. Tulsa (1-4 C-USA) enters the 7:30 p.m. game at 2-7.Not 7-2, 2-7. Out of the West race, out of the bowl picture, relegated to a spoiler role.
So why, oh why have the 2005 and 2012 Conference USA champions fallen so hard?A recap of the seven losses:Bowling Green 34, Tulsa 7: The Hurricane was held to 273 total yards, the lowest in four years (then by slightly more powerful Oklahoma). Strong safety Demarco Nelson, a preseason all-conference pick, was ruled academically ineligible before the game and Tulsa lost both starting defensive ends during the game.Oklahoma 51, Tulsa 20: Not an unexpected result, but the Sooners piled up 609 total yards.Iowa State 38, Tulsa 21: At Tulsa's H.A. Chapman Stadium, the Cyclones scored 24 unanswered points to erase a 14-7 deficit. Four turnovers didn't help.Rice 30, Tulsa 27 (OT): The Hurricane gave up a 25-yard pass from Taylor McHargue in the extra period to lose to the Owls for the first time since 2006.Tulane 14, Tulsa 7: Dane Evans made his first start at quarterback in place of Cody Green, the Nebraska transfer expected to have a big senior season. Evans went 13 of 30 with three interceptions, one deep in Green Wave territory.Texas-San Antonio 34, Tulsa 15: Oh, where to start? First, the Roadrunners drive 60 yards in three plays, then score again on the recovery on Trey Watts' muffed punt into the end zone.East Carolina 58, Tulsa 24: The school's official web site, in the spirit of positivity, declares that "Hurricane rushed for 100 more yards than Pirate opponents had averaged in the first eight games."
The headline bypasses ECU quarterback Shane Carden's five passing touchdowns and two by rush. Even worse: On the game's final play, third-string QB Joseph Calcagni threw a pick at the goal line, which ECU's DaShaun Amos returned 100 yards.Injuries and other losses have contributed mightily. DeMarco is far from the only season-ending casualty.
And he wasn't the first - starting cornerback Darrell Williams tore his anterior cruciate ligament during preseason camp. Receiver Keyarris Garrett, the leading pass-catcher from 2011, fractured his lower leg against Colorado State. Tight end Garrett McGrady broke his femur against Rice.The list of starters missing one or more games numbered at least nine, with preseason all-conference offensive lineman Stetson Burnett the latest. The 6-foot-4, 314-pounder has an ankle sprain, missed the ECU game and is likely out this week.But the burning question is this: How much of the collapse falls on those injuries and how much falls on generally poor play, coaching, lack of talent or whatever?MU coach Doc Holliday isn't buying any "lack of talent" angle."That team won the conference championship a year ago," he said. "They beat Iowa State in the bowl game . . . they won 12 or 13 games, beat Central Florida in the [C-USA] championship game."They'll play with a lot of confidence, I know their coach will have them coached really well. When you turn that film on, they're one year removed from winning 12, 13 games and they're in an area where they can recruit a lot of players. We're going to get their best shot, and our guys have to be ready to go play."
The Hurricane has many of its big names, for sure. Members of MU's offensive line were talking Monday about No. 55, which belongs to Shawn Jackson. The 6-0, 255-pound senior linebacker leads the team with 13 tackles for loss, and has 191/2 career sacks, a half off the school record.Watts, who has rushed for 255 yards and returned a kickoff for a TD in two games against the Herd, is leading the Hurricane with 857 rushing yards and had 370 receiving yards. Ja'Terian Douglas is back, though he averaging just 3.3 yards over his 85 carries.On the other hand, quarterback play has been dismal at times. Green is 114 of 203 for 1,312 yards and seven touchdowns vs. six interceptions, for a passer rating of 115.9 - a lowly ninth in C-USA, but Peyton Manning-like compared to Evans' 84.9.The two have thrown six interceptions apiece. Add in Calcagni's "pick-six" at ECU, throw in 13 lost fumbles and you have 26 turnovers - nearly three per game. That and a minus-13 turnover margin rank 13th in the 14-team C-USA, only better than Southern Mississippi (32 turnovers, minus-18).But Holliday isn't taking that stat or anything else for granted. It's a road game against the 2012 league champs, and that's how he's approaching it."If they do a good job protecting the ball, they're a really good team," he said. "They've had turnovers at the wrong times, and it's hurt them."nn
MU's captains this week are quarterback Rakeem Cato and lineman Chris Jasperse on the offense, defensive tackle James Rouse and cornerback Monterius Lovett on the defense. That quartet carries a combined 17 selections.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.