I re-watched the Tulsa - East Carolina game on ESPN3 and was able to get a little more in-depth with the "What to Watch" this week. There are even a couple of parts where I sound like I know what I am talking about. Enjoy.
What does Tulsa do on Offense?
See Troy, repeat, but with a little more of a rushing attack.. Tulsa will run 100% of their plays out of the shotgun, operating quickly with a no huddle that utilizes checks at the line from the sidelines and the quarterback. They always operate with 5 men on the line, then have the other 5 spread around in a lot of unique ways. Their most typical set is with 3 WRs and 2 backs in the backfield, but they often put multiple guys in motion before the snap so this can quickly change to a 4 or 5 wide set, or a full house backfield. Essentially. Tulsa's RBs and WRs are interchangeable. On most plays there are RBs splitting out wide or WRs lining up in the backfield, or even taking direct snaps.
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The Tulsa rushing attack I mentioned above is not in any way a traditional rushing game. About 1 out of 5 runs is a handoff to a RB; the other 4 will be reverses, end arounds, and QB keepers/option. They also will lineup in a wildcat formation, usually with Demaris Johnson (an undersized speedy WR that wears #3... sound familiar?) taking the snaps. All of this has been working thus far this season as Tulsa is averaging 4.6 ypc while running the ball 81 times, compared to 91 pass attempts... making them more balanced than most of us would have assumed.
The passing game is intended to complete a lot of short underneath passes to speedy, elusive receivers that can turn a short pass into a big gain. Most passes are thrown quickly, however QB G.J. Kinne can get into trouble when he is forced to move and find open receivers, as he is a bit of a gunslinger. On the season he has thrown 2 interceptions, but that number could be much higher as there have been numerous close calls and tipped passes.
In all, the Tulsa offense tries to be tricky and runs a lot of different styles of play out of different formations. The key to disrupting this attack will be the Oklahoma State defense getting a good pass rush, which shouldn't be too difficult as East Carolina was in the backfield most of the game causing a lot of disruptions, while maintaining good run support. A majority of Tulsa's successful runs have been around the outside against opponents that cannot come close to matching the speed of the Oklahoma State defense. The OLB's and DB's maintaining good positioning, and the DE's offering some containment will neutralize this rushing attack, and force Tulsa to the air. While this still makes them dangerous, turning them into a one dimensional team will be a huge step in containing this potentially potent offense.
What does Tulsa do on Defense?
They run almost every play out of an odd-man front, with the occasional shift to 4 down and 2 LBs (nickle package). The 3-3-5 gives them a lot of speed in different parts of the field, but it can leave the middle of the line open for a good rushing attack. Tulsa will try to get pressure with blitzes that usually come from the outside by a speedy DB or OLB. They disguise these blitzes by coming on delays and shifting around a lot before the snap, and with 6 sacks through 2 games (each by a different person), these disguised blitzes seem to be effective.
In the East Carolina game, the Tulsa D almost exclusively ran with the CBs playing a man press coverage, with the safeties in a cover 2 over the top. This cut off a lot of the underneath stuff, but left them wide open to a lot of medium range passes that Carolina was able to convert. With the burners that Oklahoma State has at the receiver position, I would be surprised if Tulsa is pressing them at the line as hard as they were their first two opponents. Any of OSU's starting 4 WRs are fast enough to get behind these DB's quickly, and as we saw in the Troy game, once that happens it is a free run to the end zone. (note: Brandon just needs to connect on a few of those over/under throws he had early in the game last week.). I also wouldn't be surprised to see a little more zone coverage as the much taller and more physical Oklahoma State WRs like Justin Blackmon, Tracy Moore, and even Justin Horton will be able to manhandle the smaller Tulsa DBs.
The Tulsa Linebackers are... let's say "not great". In the 3-3-5 (or any odd man front defense), the linebackers are tasked with filling the gaps where the linemen would usually be with a 4 man front, and in the case of Tulsa (at least in the East Carolina game), this was an issue. The linebackers were often out of position, or slow getting to their spots, Kendall Hunter and the Oklahoma State running game should have no problems exploiting the interior gaps of the line for big rushing yardage. I would not be shocked to see a performance similar to the Washington State game.
One last note... Tulsa likes to kick to the upback on kickoffs like Troy was. All the Troy similarities are starting to freak me out. I would look for the Cowboys to make the effective adjustment of putting Joseph Randle as the upback as we did in the Troy game, and make Tulsa pay for this strategy.