Tulsa’s defense, special teams, Keenum, fast starts, cheerleaders

Mannie Nunnery in the Grambling game / Photo by Mario Puente

Tulsa has lost three close games (Ohio State was up just 7 until the final 3+ minutes when they scored twice). They also have a close win. There are three things that stand out to me:

1. Despite playing two ranked teams, Tulsa has given up only 10 touchdowns on defense in four games. But opponents are still scoring 30 ppg. What? How?

2. Tulsa has given up 4 non-offensive TDs (an INT return, a punt return, and two kickoff returns). The Tulsa defense is really pretty good but when special teams and the offense are giving up a TD a game, it’s hard to win.

Below is the punt return at the start of the Arkansas State game. The punter booms a 58 yarder to get their defense some room to work but instead, hilarity ensues. The gunner flies by the returner which makes no sense, everyone attacks with terrible angles, a poor effort from a lineman, and a punter that has absolutely no interest in getting his uniform dirty. Why is everyone so flat-footed here?

Marcus Jones must be genuinely excited.

Arkansas State scored two offensive TDs yet finished with 34 points. A punt return, a kickoff return, and two late field goals kept them in the game. Dana mentioned it in his press conference Monday – it’s pretty rare to win a game when a team returns two kicks on you.

If you recall, UH did that to UNT in Tune’s first career start in 2019 (Marquez Stevenson kick return, Bryson Smith punt return). And if you also recall, when UH beat Tulsa that same year, the Coogs had only 10 offensive points but had an INT return (Damarion Williams) and a kickoff return (Stevenson again).

UH special teams could play a big role in this game.

3. The Hurricane average 6.9 yards per play while UH is only at 5.2. This has been a focus for the coaching staff since the Tech game and they’ve had some progress. UH averaged 5.7 yards against Grambling and 5.8 against Navy.

Random stats and stuff

– The Tulsa defense went 82 minutes of game time without giving up a touchdown early in the season. UC Davis scored a TD less than 4 minutes into the opener and Oklahoma State didn’t score until 4 minutes left in the first half of game two. That was 102 defensive snaps between TDs surrendered. Impressive.

– Tulsa strips the ball pretty well. They’ve caused 11 fumbles (only gained two, though). Something to watch.

– Tulsa opponents are 10/10 on field goals. Field goals beat them in the UC-Davis game (the Aggies had 4) and they’ve given up five FGs of 41+ yards. At the same time, UH has attempted 5 field goals and made only two (22, 38 yards).

– UH has played Tulsa more than any other opponent. Friday will be the 45th meeting between the two. UH leads the series 25-19 and the teams are 10-10 in Tulsa. UH was 4-4 vs. Tulsa at Rice Stadium, 6-3 at the Astrodome, 2-2 at Robertson, and are 3-0 at TDECU.

– 10 years ago, needing a final win to complete a perfect regular season, the Coogs went to Tulsa for a Black Friday 11 a.m. kickoff. Case Keenum threw for 457 yards and 5 TDs to tie the school record for wins in a season (later broken then tied by the 2015 team).

After an awful game in Tulsa in 2007, Keenum threw for 1383 yards and had 14 total TDs in his final three games against TU. Tulsa was Case’s second-favorite team to play behind UTEP. He ate UTEP alive (1985 yards, 15 TDs).

Keenum throwing in Tulsa in 2009

– Start fast: the UH defense is 7-1 in opening drives to start the half. The Cougars got a fumble from Tech, punts by Rice and Grambling, and Navy scored a TD on their opening drive of the game. In their first drives of the second half, all four opponents punted.

– On offense, UH has 4 touchdowns on opening drives to start halves (two first half, two second half). Rice is the only game where the Coogs scored to start both halves. UH has missed two FGs on opening drives and had one punt.

– The UH defense is playing 54 snaps a game while Tulsa plays 70. That’s basically an entire extra game already for the Hurricane. Tulsa has also played 4 competitive games and the starters have played most snaps while UH’s backups played quite a bit in the Rice and Grambling games.

– Mannie Nunnery seems like an awesome guy. He absolutely wrecked Rice’s punter earlier this year. Here he is flipping with UH cheerleaders Saturday, which was also his birthday:

Mannie tells me that he’s “been flipping since 6 years old and I learned it from my dad. That’s my first time flipping with the cheerleaders.”

Mannie’s dad Ronald played basketball at Lamar and for the Harlem Globetrotters.

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