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The BYU and Tulsa football teams touch down in Texas today, four days ahead of their Dallas meeting in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Past performances and present productivity point to high-scoring affair at SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium on Friday.
The two programs first met in 1971, but the 25-7 scoreline in BYU's favor was little indication of the kinds of games that would follow in later years. Between 1984 and 2007, BYU and TU played six more times, with the winner scoring at least 38 points on all six occasions, and the loser scoring 30 or more four times.
1984: BYU 38 Tulsa 15
1995: BYU 45 Tulsa 35
1996: BYU 55 Tulsa 30
1997: BYU 49 Tulsa 39
2006: BYU 49 Tulsa 24
2007: Tulsa 55 BYU 47
The average combined total offense tally in the six most recent contests: 924 yards/game.
Despite a high-scoring history with Tulsa, BYU has a relatively low-scoring history in the Lone Star state. Dating back to a New Year's Day 1997 Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State, the Cougars are averaging only 16.8 points per game in their last 11 games played in Texas. BYU's record in the 11 games is 5-6.
In Dallas, BYU is 2-0 alltime, with the Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State (19-15), and a regular season win over SMU in the Cotton Bowl stadium later that calendar year (9/27/07), 19-16 in overtime.
Now to the present day, and the 2011 BYU and Tulsa teams which tangle at week's end.
Both teams are averaging better than 30 points per game, with the Cougars pacing at 30.6 points per contest, and the Golden Hurricane scoring 34.1 points per outing. BYU has topped 40 points four times this season; Tulsa three times.
Both teams are in the FBS Top 50 in scoring and total offense, with Tulsa ranking 24th in both categories, and BYU ranking 41st in both.
Both teams perform similarly in the pass game (BYU: 245 yards/gm; Tulsa 250 yds/gm), while the Hurricane hold a more substantial edge on the ground (Tulsa 25th in rush offense--205 yds/gm, 5.0 yds/rush; BYU 52nd in rush offense--166 yds/gm, 4.4 yds/rush).
On the surface, Tulsa's defensive numbers indicate BYU can expect a better than average day on offense, while BYU's defensive performance should put the a little more pressure on TU's offense to perform.
On the season, BYU is averaging 410 yards in offense; Tulsa gives up better than 420 yards/game as one of the nation's more generous defensive teams (90th in total defense, 69th in scoring defense). BYU meantime, is 17th in total defense and 23rd in scoring defense.
It should be noted however that Tulsa played (and lost to) four teams ranked in the Top 10 at the time of the game, and those teams (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Boise State and Houston) are all currently ranked in the top 10 in total offense and scoring offense. So, there's that. Yes, Tulsa has given up some big numbers, but to great offensive teams. By the same token, every other team Tulsa has faced this season is currently ranked lower than BYU in total offense, so we'll soon see how close BYU's offense is to the best teams Tulsa has faced, compared to the remainder of TU's schedule.
I asked BYU quarterback Riley Nelson about his bowl game expectations on offense, and he said "as far as the ball being in the air, and the points and yards, it should be similar" to the 41-20 win over Hawaii, during which Nelson passed for a career-high 363 yards and three touchdowns.
On Tulsa's defensive numbers, particularly against the pass (289 pass yds/gm allowed; 118th nationally), Nelson said those numbers are "a little bit misleading," because of the schedule strength noted above.
"But," says Nelson, "we feel like we can attack them, and not just with our quick (pass) game; we feel like we can get down the field on them."
About the high-octane history between BYU and Tulsa, Nelson said "it should be a fun game...but I don't expect our defense to give up a lot of points, and I think they're expecting their defense to do that. I don't know if it will be 50-some to 40-something, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the score climb into the 30s."
Saying that Tulsa has "really good athletes on the offensive side of the ball," linebacker Jameson Frazier expects the BYU defense to validate its high rankings on that side of the scrimmage line.
"I had the highest hopes for this defense, and honestly I want as much as we can get," said Frazier. "I saw it in us, and I was just waiting for it to come to fruition."
Head coach and defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall knows his charges will have a substantial challenge slowing down Tulsa's balanced attack.
"They can throw it and they can run it," said Mendenhall, "and the quarterback (G.J. Kinne; 405 rush yards) is part of the run game, which makes it more difficult to defend."
"Their point production goes over-the-top and around (the edge), so that's where we'll start. Normally you start inside out; we'll kind of start outside-in on this one. If they score, hopefully it's on sustained drives, and not on big plays."
Tulsa's offensive scheme has retained much of the identity established by former TU coordinator (and current Arkansas State head coach) Gus Malzahn in 2007, even as different offensive coordinators have shuffled through. Mendenhall said the scheme continuity is understandable because "it's effective...there's not much to change, because it works really well."