MEMPHIS, Tenn.-- - Nothing is unfamiliar about the University of Tulsa’s football team to the Iowa State Cyclones.
That also can be said about the Golden Hurricane (10-3) and their extensive knowledge of the Cyclones (6-6).
The two teams have spent the better part of five weeks preparing to face each other on the gridiron during 2012. That span includes parts of three weeks in preparation for the season opener in Ames that Iowa State won on Sept 1 and at least the last two weeks preparing for Monday’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff in the 54th Liberty Bowl at Memorial Stadium in Memphis.
And don’t even mention the fact the two will play a third time in 13 months next September in Tulsa, something that Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads doesn’t want to acknowledge.
“Lord knows, we are not working on the third game,” Rhoads quipped after the Cyclones’ practice Friday at Rhodes College in Memphis. “We are focused on the Liberty Bowl.”
Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship, who has faced the same opponent twice in the same season multiple times in his 23 seasons coaching high school football in Oklahoma, says it’s a big deal, but not a big deal.
“It will be interesting when we get to next year,” Blankenship said. “The games this season, they are far enough apart that we have plenty to work on. Iowa State is a different team now. We’re a different team now.”
Players and coaches on both sides say what they’ve seen on film shows two teams that have evolved and gotten much better than the first time they meet nearly nearly four months ago. ISU won that game, 38-23.
“These are two teams that know each other pretty well,” Golden Hurricane quarterback Cody Green said.
Preparing for what to expect from Tulsa is a delicate mix, according to Rhoads.
“You take a season’s worth of change and development on their end and figure out what you have,” Rhoads said of his game plan. “You also look at the changes on your own ball team and see how that impacts you offensively and defensively and put it together.”
With that said, Cyclones say they won’t be prepared for everything they will see from the Golden Hurricane on New Year’s Eve.
“I can tell you last year (at the Pinstripe Bowl), Rutgers came out with stuff we had never seen before and you have to be able to adjust in the game no matter what you practiced,” ISU linebacker Jake Knott said.
Rhoads agrees, saying film study of Tulsa’s two games with Central Florida, a regular season meeting and then the Conference USA title game a couple of weeks later, showed the Golden Hurricane doing stuff that hadn’t been seen in any of their 12 regular season games.
“You have to mindful of it, but you can’t chase ghosts,” Rhoads said. “You don’t know what those changes are going to be, so you have to adjust, I call it battlefield adjustments.
“Players have to be tuned into it and than physically go out and execute it.”
What is most likely going to be seen once the ball is kicked off is two teams that play football far differently than any of the other teams in their respective conferences.
Unlike their conference brethren, Iowa State and Tulsa are teams who rely on the rush, not the pass to set the tone, offensively.
And it’s Tulsa’s run game, and how Green at quarterback manages the Golden Hurricane offense, that has the Cyclones concerned.
Tulsa is ranked 11th in the FBS in rushing offense (240.3) and third in Conference USA in scoring offense (35 ppg). It also averaged better than 500 yards per game in its last four games.
“They are going to come at us and the key for us in any game is to stop the rush first,” defensive end Roosevelt Maggitt said.
Tulsa hits opposing defenses with a multi-faceted attack featuring speed backs – Trey Watts and Je’Terian Douglas, and bruising 6-foot-1, 260-pound Alex Singleton. Additionally, the 6-4, 247-pound Green has gotten more involved in the Golden Hurricane’s run attack.
The running back trio combined for 2,581 yards and a 5.4 yard per carry average this season.
ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham says Tulsa’s offense concerns him on two fronts. One is he believes the offensive line is the most improved unit for the Golden Hurricane, and two, the coaching staff has done a great job of putting Green in position to be highly productive.
“You can tell they have really found out what he can do best for them,” Burnham said.
“We’ve got to pressure him,” ISU linebacker A.J. Klein said of Green. “If we don’t pressure him and get in his face, he’s going to make plays. He’s very controlling of that offense.”
Offensively, Iowa State has to be prepared for a smaller, but quicker Tulsa defensive front seven that will blitz frequently. The Golden Hurricane ranked third nationally in quarterback sacks (48 for 340 yards) and fourth in tackles for loss (104 for 484).
“We’ve got to be aware, we’ve got to execute,” wide receiver Josh Lenz said. “They are a great team and we respect the heck out of them. They do a lot of things well and we have to do what we do better.”
Tulsa sacked than ISU quarterback Steele Jantz four times in the first game.
“We’ve got to communicate and we have to protect Sam (current ISU quarterback Sam Richardson), that’s our job,” offensive linemen Carter Bykowski said.