One result was guaranteed at the end of the game - one of these teams was going to sit atop the AAC in the curtain raiser for the 2014 season. While that may not last long, it's a step up for Tulsa, who were 3-9 last season. The offense looked much better, and the secondary stood up well for the most part against the Tulane passing attack. Joy of winning aside, this was hardly a perfect performance, and the team has plenty to do to come close to competing in the conference. But enough misery, let's enjoy the victory for a moment, and then question the manhood of the players.
Quarterbacks: Remember Dane Evans last season. He was a train wreck at times as a freshman, but the word coming out of spring camp was he had improved greatly. They weren't kidding. In one game, Evans threw for 438 yards, almost half of last year's total, and 4 TDs, or last year's total. He completed 31 of 53 passes, an okay 58.5%, but a light years ahead of 43.1% from 2013. On the flip side, he threw 2 interceptions, and had another one cancelled out thanks to a penalty, so he still need to tighten up there. Overall though, he moved the ball well enough, and made the plays that needed be made, including a 2-point conversion at the end of regulation.
Grade: B (maybe a +)
Running Backs: James Flanders got the start, but it was evident early on that Tavarreon Dickerson was going to be a difference maker. While he didn't rack up the stats like his Tulane counterpart, Sherman Badie (215 yards), he was effective, carrying 15 times for 84 yards and catching a 14-yard pass. He also had a couple of big plays called back due to penalties. He had 3 runs in excess of 10 yards, and a 23-yard long. Flanders had a solid first performance, with 8 carries for 32 yards, with a long of 11, and caught a couple of passes for a loss of a yard total. Neither are particularly big, so expect plenty of carries shared over the coming weeks. A solid, but not spectacular performance.
Receivers: After catching just 32 passes for 442 yards and a score all of last season, Keevan Lucas swiftly became Evans's new best friend by catching an outstanding 13 passes for 233 yards and 3 TDs. Among those scoring catches were efforts from 43 and 84 yards, as Lucas ran amok though the Tulane secondary. He also added 36 yards on 3 carries, just for fun. Also chipping in Joshua Atkinson, with 7 catches for 80 yards, and Keyarris Garrett, who caught 5 passes for 87 yards. Conner Floyd caught the other TD, among his 3 catches for 25 yards. A good looking group, who will only get better.
Offensive Line: The offensive line did a good job of keeping Evans upright, allowing just 1 sacks and a credited hurry, but they were less effective blocking for the run. They opened up some good holes, but also allowed too many defenders into the backfield, with 5 tackles for loss allowed, although a couple were Evans trying to take off - hardly his forte. This was a young unit, with a combined 30 starts, and only player, left tackle Garrett Stafford, starting 12 or more. Two players were seeing their first serious action, so you have to give this line a lot of credit for standing up to Tulane's aggressive defense.
Defensive Line: When your opponent rushes for 254 yards against you, it's pretty obvious that the big boys up front weren't getting the job done. While it isn't fair to pin the entire blame on the the front four, questions have to be asked. This wasn't a rookie unit either, and was meant to be the spearhead of this season's defensive unit. The line accounted for 4 tackles for loss, plus a sack by freshman defensive end Jeremy Smith. Ends Chris Hummingbird and Derrick Alexander combined for 7 of the line's 12 tackles. On a bright note, Tulane's runners not called Badie combined for just 50 yards on 14 carries. The line also allowed just one rushing TD.
Linebackers: See 'rushing yards = not doing your job' bit for the defensive line. Is it possible that the linebackers missed Shawn Jackson more than expected against Tulane. Talented Trent Martin, Jackson's replacement, made a ton of tackles (12, to be precise), and broke up a pass, while freshman starter Craig Suits made 6 and broke up another. While there was plenty of assisted tackles, showing that players were flowing to the ball, too many tackles were made downfield. They did make some plays against the pass, which bumps up the grade a little, but the unit must do better.
Defensive Backs: The secondary was returning an experienced unit, and it certainly showed against the Green Wave. They were playing against a redshirt freshman at quarterback, and a receiving unit that was missing 2013's star, but they played well for the most part. They had some off moments, but held Lee to a 50% completion percentage (22/44) for 262, although they gave up 3 TDs. The biggest play came in overtime, when senior safety Demarco Nelson, who missed all of last season, picked off Lee to ice the game. Nelson was third on the team with 9 tackles, while Michael Mudoh had 10. Corner Dwight Dobbins had 7, but do you really want your secondary making this many tackles.
Special Teams: Kicker Carl Salazar missed his first 2 field goals, from 34 and 23 yards, but was perfect from then on, making kicks 42 and 26 (twice). Punter Dalton Parks dropped one of his 3 punts inside the 20, but boomed a 55-yarder into the endzone. Tulane didn't get to return any though. Kick and punt returns were okay, while the kick coverage was solid.
The Bottom Line: A win is a win. Tulsa were entering a new, tougher conference, and many members of the media had them pegged to finish last in the conference. They already have a leg up on the Green Wave, and there was plenty to like about this performance. Questions in the backfield look to have been answered, while the receiving corps looks to be great. The defense at times looked like the unit we expected them to be in the preseason, but they showed a vulnerability to the big play, and some tackling issues. This week's visit from Oklahoma could be a hard lesson.