The 14th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners take aim at their 11th 3-0 start since 1999 when they renew their intrastate rivalry with the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Saturday afternoon.
Tulsa suffered a 34-7 loss at Bowling Green in the season opener, but bounced back last week at home versus Colorado State, prevailing in a 30-27 final. The Golden Hurricane will play a Big 12 Conference foe in consecutive games as they return home to tangle with Iowa State on Thursday, Sept. 26.
Tulsa, the smallest school in the FBS, last beat a top-20 team in 1996 (27-20 over No. 19 Iowa), and its last win over a top-15 foe was five years earlier (35-34 over No. 15 Texas A&M).
Oklahoma blanked ULM in its season opener (34-0), but had a tougher time getting past West Virginia in the Big 12 lid lifter last week, winning 16-7. With that victory, head coach Bob Stoops moved to within seven wins of becoming the all-time leader in school history.
The Sooners are 35-2 at home against non-conference foes under Stoops, and they will try to remain perfect with him at the helm against Tulsa (6-0). They've beaten the Hurricane by an average margin of 30 points during Stoops' tenure, and overall, OU is 17-7-1 in the series, winning 11 of the last 12 meetings.
Tulsa picked up its first win of the season last weekend against Colorado State, but it didn't come easily as the team needed a last-second field goal to complete the comeback.
The Golden Hurricane had the edge in several statistical categories, including first downs (22-9) and total yards (427-286), and took advantage of an undisciplined CSU squad that committed nine penalties for a loss of 123 yards. Trey Watts was a beast in the Tulsa running game, gaining 152 yards on 22 carries, while Cody Green completed 21-of-39 passes for 212 yards with three TDs and one interception. Watts was also high man with eight catches, taking them for 58 yards, while Derek Patterson turned his three grabs into 61 yards and a score.
Defensively, Tulsa did a particularly good job against the pass, allowing the Rams just 108 yards on 12 completions. The unit came up with a pair of interceptions and one fumble recovery, while yielding just a 4-of-17 success rate on third-down conversion attempts. Michael Mudoh led the Hurricane with eight tackles, all of them solo efforts, and he had one of the two picks.
Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship was obviously happy with the outcome, but was especially pleased with the effort put forth by his team.
"There were some times we made it tough. I'm just really proud of our guys of staying around, making the plays when we had to. Kept digging a hole early, but still, a lot of self inflicted wounds, especially in the first half."
Behind a career-high 170 yards from Brennan Clay, the Oklahoma offense was content to pound away at the West Virginia defense last Saturday, finishing with 316 rushing yards. Trevor Knight had a sketchy game, completing 10-of-20 passes for 119 yards with a TD and two INTs. It was the second straight lackluster effort for Knight, who hit just 11-of-28 attempts for 86 yards with a pick against ULM, although he did throw three TD passes and led the team in rushing with 103 yards on 13 carries. OU committed four turnovers against the Mountaineers, but Mike Hunnicutt booted three field goals.
With Knight ailing and proving to be ineffective, Stoops announced on Monday that Blake Bell will make his first career start against Tulsa. Bell, who has appeared in 22 games for the Sooners, played in the second half of last week's win over WVU and in his career has completed 13-of-26 passes for 153 yards, adding 403 yards and 24 TDs on the ground.
Stoops pointed out that the Oklahoma offense really shouldn't look all that different just because there is a new signal caller in there.
"I've said it for a year," he said of his quarterbacks. "You can go back and read all the quotes. They're pretty much the same. They all can run, they all can throw, and they're all athletic. There isn't much of a difference between them as far as their skill set and what they can do."
West Virginia managed to gain 387 yards last week, but turned the ball over four times and scored just once in the first quarter. The Sooners allowed only 3-of-13 third-down tries to be converted successfully, and got a team-high eight tackles from Quentin Hayes.
It's only been two games, but OU is giving up just 3.5 points and 276.5 total yards per contest -- the former ranking the team tied for fourth in the FBS, and the latter at No. 20.