|Tulsa, UCF stage familiar fight for C-USA championship in Orlando|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 30 November 2007 15:51|
Twice, actually, with wildly different results.
The teams meet in Orlando for second time in three years Saturday for the Conference USA championship. The Golden Hurricane cruised to the 2005 title and a Liberty Bowl win, but UCF (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) beat them by 21 at home earlier this season.
``My experience when you play somebody twice in the same year, it's like the NFL,'' said UCF coach George O'Leary, a former defensive coordinator and line coach with the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings. ``You do what got you to that game. You may make some wrinkle changes, but for the most part you are who you are, and you get into that game and you let your kids play.''
O'Leary's kids shook up Tulsa quarterback Paul Smith for four interceptions when they met in October, holding the nation's top offense at 548 yards per game to a season low in points.
Smith, second in the country with 4,327 yards and third in efficiency, passed for 316 yards and three touchdowns but got pressured into too many mistakes.
``I thought that was one of the poorest (games) that we played,'' Tulsa coach Todd Graham said. ``We had several pass interference penalties that weren't real smart. We didn't protect our quarterback.''
Graham also blamed his own personnel decisions. He moved left tackle Walter Boyd to center, the only game Boyd played at the position, and reinserted Wade Whitlow into the starting lineup at tackle. The result was a season-low 379 yards, and after changing back, Tulsa (9-3, 6-2) has won five straight.
Graham said his senior quarterback is playing as well as anyone in the country. Smith has set four conference records - total offense (4,450), passing (4,327), TD passes (39) and touchdowns responsible for (51) this season.
``People don't realize that this is a new offense and every term has been new for Paul Smith. I think after Week 8, he really started digesting all of it and started to understand about being patient,'' first-year coach Graham said. ``Whatever accolades he gets, he's very deserving, and I don't think he gets enough. The guy's an all-American in my opinion.''
UCF has its own underrated Smith - Kevin, the nation's leading scorer and rusher. The 6-foot-1, 211-pound back has already ran for 2,164 yards, fourth-best in NCAA history, and has two games left to play. Yet Smith has been snubbed for the Doak Walker award for the nation's best running back and any serious Heisman Trophy consideration.
Graham knows he's dangerous. The big-play threat has five 200-yard games this season and went for 170 yards and three TDs against the Golden Hurricane in October.
``We can't let (Smith) run up and down the field on us. We cannot play from behind against these guys,'' Graham said. ``We can't get into a deal where we let them spoon-feed the ball to him. We need to get ahead of these guys and try to force them into a different game situation than they've been used to.''
Tulsa is also wary of playing again in Orlando. Their first matchup for the C-USA championship was in the downtown Citrus Bowl, not UCF's raucous new on-campus stadium. Graham called it one of the most hostile places to play, and O'Leary is thankful it's home.
``It's a tough place to play out here. It really is,'' O'Leary said. ``It's loud, and you'd better have an experienced quarterback, and they do. I think there's no question it's a big-time home field advantage to play here as opposed to some other places.''