For some, the phrase "Taking Care of Business" might conjure up images of Tom Cruise prancing around in his boxers while playing air guitar in the 1983 film, "Risky Business".
For the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Saturday, it meant dismantling the Rice Owls in Houston, Texas, by the score of 41-21.
TU had a very good week of practice, so this game really didn't surprise me all that much. Unlike my usual habit of spending more time watching the offense during practice, I watched the defense prepare for the single-wing/triple-option running game of Rice. It made me feel much better about Tulsa's prospects heading into this game.
As is often the case, what I saw during the week is what we all saw during the game itself: pursuit, discipline, concentration and attention to assignments. What I didn't see coming was the tremendous performance turned in by some Hurricane defenders.
I've always been impressed by Nelson Coleman, but it seemed he was everywhere in this contest. With a team-leading 19 tackles, eleven of which were solo, he was as dominant as a middle linebacker can be. Even when he wasn't in on the tackle, he seemed to be present when it was made. His performance in this game gave him the team lead in tackles on the season with 56, one ahead of Bobby Blackshire.
While we're talking about Blackshire, we need to note that he had his second interception in as many games, to go with another eight stops. There have been a number of times, watching him play, when I've thought back to the first time I met him and how I thought he looked a bit too small to ever be a front line player. That, however, was before he spent his time in the weight room and at the training table. He is now sculpted -- and is a major difference-maker.
For a guy who thought about not coming back for his final year of eligibility (he could have graduated after last season), Brandon Lohr has made a whole lot of fans happy to see him on the field. Especially on Saturday.
Lohr turned in one of his finest performances against Rice, registering eleven stops on the day. When the rusher didn't go up the middle where Coleman could nail him, Lohr was there with a smile on his face and mayhem on his mind. One of the most common statements I hear about Brandon is, "Just imagine if he were about four inches taller!"
I have -- but I'd rather have him in a TU uniform!
Over the past couple of years, since he transferred here from OU, I've been watching Bobby Klinck and wondering just how he could do if he ever got over the string of nicks and dings that have slowed him.
I'm beginning to find out.
It seems he needed a game like Saturday's to finally begin coming into his own. He was a whirling dervish on the field, credited with just three tackles (all of which were smackdowns), but ready to deliver many, many more. His total on the season is 29, but his impact has gone well beyond that. He has provided solid coverage, especially lately, and has two pass breakups and a forced fumble to his credit.
His field awareness was really evident when Chris Chamberlain caused a fumble by the Rice runner at his own 31. Klinck saw the loose ball, shoved a crawling Rice player out of the way, scooped up the ball and ran it 19 yards into the end zone to give Tulsa a back-breaking 28-0 lead to begin the third period.
Overall, the defense took care of business beautifully, allowing Rice just 316 yards total and only 14 points. Defensive coordinator Todd Graham can be mighty proud of his charges for their performance.
Saturday saw the return of Uril Parrish. His three touchdown runs in the second period were vintage Parrish. Credited with 66 yards on just 16 carries, he ran with power and showed his outstandingly quick feet. With 404 yards on the season and four regular-season games to go, I'm betting he reaches the 1,000-yard plateau again this year. His motto could easily be, "Over, under, around or through", because that's how he's running.
With his 16-for-21 passing and his 27 critical rushing yards, Paul Smith has continued his sterling play, leading TU to what may be a very memorable season. With 1,440 yards passing year-to-date, a 205.9 average per game, he's on a pace to break into the top ten most yards in a season by a TU quarterback. Anderson, Rhome, Rubley, Frerotte, Blankenship, Killian -- and Smith. That's good company.
For the second season in a row, the Rice Owls have discovered that it's a mistake to kick to Ashlan Davis. Last year, Davis took a Rice kickoff back 83 yards for a score, but he topped it with a 96-yarder Saturday. From where I sat, it was a classic Davis return -- a thing of beauty.
After finding the large gap created by his blocking wall up the middle, he cut directly toward where I sat. One Rice defender had a perfect angle at the Rice 40, but A.D. kicked in his overdrive and beat him to the corner. After he turned it, there was another Owl with an angle at the TU 40, so Davis kept the heat on and outran the angle and the defender. Delicious.
Don't think that speed is all A.D. has to offer, because on two of his three receptions, he showed terrific drive in pushing through tackles for a couple of key first downs. His third catch was for a touchdown.
An awesome performance by a terrific young man.
I'm not sure how it happened that "Ricochet" Ryan Bugg was not around when a pass deflected off all-world tight end Garrett Mills, but rising star Monroe Nichols was. One of just two catches on the day (one-third of his season total), Nichols showed power in turning immediately north-south and gaining several contested yards after the catch. Look for more Monroe the rest of the season.
Those who love "smash mouth" football have just got to watch Tulsa's #47, Conner Long. Whether on special teams or as an H-back, he delivers some of the most certain blocks on the team. On one play I recall, he leveled a rushing defender on a sweep and, when the play turned the other way, leveled him again. He's a blast to watch, and may be the team's top unsung hero.
Having taken care of business against Rice, next week will be a time for hardhats and lunch boxes once again. Since the Mustangs of SMU seem to have had Tulsa's number in recent years, it's critical that the Hurricane go to work this week with the same intensity they have the last couple games.
Come to think of it, I wonder if SMU knows what hardhats and lunchboxes even are? Hmmmmm