Tulsa Wants Win Against Underrated BYU

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TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Tulsa coach Todd Graham considers BYU the most underrated program in the country. He wouldn't put his own team in that category.

But a victory against the Cougars (1-1), who had an 11-game winning streak snapped last week by UCLA, would be just the kind of high-profile win his team has lacked since it won the Liberty Bowl two seasons ago.

"BYU's a team that's won a national championship. They have national prominence," Graham said. "To be able to get a win like this this week would really move us toward where we want to be."

The Saturday night matchup will represent a series of firsts for Tulsa (1-0): the first home game under first-year coach Graham, the first game at the renamed H.A. Chapman Stadium and the first game they'll be able to emerge from the new locker rooms at the Case Athletic Complex in the north end zone.

The new athletic complex and the upgrades that will accompany the stadium name change are a part of the momentum Tulsa started under previous coach Steve Kragthorpe, who had Graham as his defensive coordinator from 2003 to 2005.

But after its first back-to-back bowl appearances in 41 years, Graham doesn't consider the Golden Hurricane to be underrated like he thinks BYU had been while possessing the nation's second-longest winning streak.

"I think you have to do something before you start talking about how good you are," Graham said. "This program has been to three out of the last four bowl games, won a conference championship. I think we're respected. I think we're respected nationally. I think we're respected in our conference because we're picked at the top.

"But you can't say that about yourself until you've won 11 games in a row, and BYU's won 11 of their last 12 football games. That's one of the longest winning streaks in the country. Why they're not rated in the top 25, I have no idea."

The meeting of two former Western Athletic Conference foes will feature two of the nation's top 15 passing offenses. Tulsa racked up 307 yards through the air in its 35-17 win at Louisiana-Monroe in the debut of the spread, no-huddle scheme offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn brought from Arkansas. BYU has averaged 339.5 yards passing after Max Hall replaced John Beck, a second-round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins, as the team's quarterback.

"I don't think you're ever just going to shut down BYU's offense because they're too potent of an offense. I think they've got one of the best offenses in the country," Graham said. "I like our defense, I like how we match up to them. We'll find out where we're at as a program."

Tulsa boasts the No. 1 pass defense in the nation after its 3-3-5 scheme held Louisiana-Monroe to only 66 yards passing in its opener, but the Golden Hurricane also gave up 212 yards on the ground. That's a concern against BYU, which piled up 227 yards rushing in a 49-24 win last year as Tulsa had trouble bringing down 234-pound tailback Fui Vakapuna.

"I think the big issue is going to be tackling," Graham said. "How well can we tackle their running backs? Because their running backs are big and physical."

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is hoping his team can eliminate the mistakes that proved costly last week when the Cougars committed three turnovers and 11 penalties in the 27-17 loss to UCLA, now No. 11.

"We're looking for cleaner play and improved execution against a very good opponent with a fairly unique style of both offense and defense," Mendenhall said.

Despite having a homestand, Tulsa will be embarking on its most difficult two-game stretch of the season following a 16-day layoff. No. 3 Oklahoma comes to Tulsa on Sept. 21.

Graham sees the two games as potential stepping stones, but nothing more.

"I think you've got to go have a season. I don't think a few games makes a program," Graham said. "Our goal is we're trying to win every one of them. We want to win championships. We don't want to go to a bowl, we want to win it. We want to be bowl champions. We don't want to go to the conference championship game, we want to win it.

"When we go win a conference championship and be undefeated in conference and are able to beat teams like BYU and Oklahoma, then we can start to brag or say something, that our program deserves some top 25 recognition. We're a long way away from that right now."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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