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Saturday, September 30, 2023


C-USA NOTEBOOK: Tulsa offense still a threat

In 2007, the Golden Hurricane rode the arm of quarterback Paul Smith to a 10-4 record (6-2 C-USA), compiling the best offense in Conference USA at 41.1 points per game.

One season and a new quarterback later, Tulsa is still terrorizing opposing defenses.

Tulsa continued its hot start to the season by dismantling C-USA rival Rice 63-28 on Saturday in Tulsa, Okla. It was the fifth consecutive game in which the Hurricane (5-0, 2-0 C-USA) has recorded at least 45 points and 550 yards of offense.

It was also another strong outing for senior quarterback David Johnson, who completed 13 of 25 passes for 177 yards and four touchdowns. Johnson, who backed up Smith for the last two seasons, has thrown for 1,682 yards and 23 touchdowns while completing 69.9 percent of his passes. He leads the nation in passing efficiency (214.8).

So, Johnson has more than erased any doubt that he could fill the void left by Smith. He’s projected to throw for 55 touchdowns this season. That would break the C-USA and Tulsa single-season record of 47 touchdown passes set by Smith last season.

Fortunately for Johnson, he has the use of the same dynamic weapons that Smith enjoyed last season, including senior running back Tarrion Adams, senior wide receiver Brennan Marion and sophomore wide receiver Trae Johnson. It also helps that Johnson is under the tutelage of offensive coordinator second-year offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who did wonders for Smith last season.

If Johnson keeps playing at such a high level, the Hurricane will have little trouble repeating as C-USA West Division champions and returning to the conference title game for the second consecutive season.

Tulsa’s defense, which is ranked 99th out of 119 teams in total defense (413.6 yards allowed per game), is far from great and should be an area of concern. But with an offense that leads the nation in total offense (596 yards per game) and scoring (56.4 points per game), the Hurricane probably isn’t too worried.

Kicking controversy?

Memphis junior kicker Matt Reagan has missed the last two games with a hip injury, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be the starter when he returns.

Freshman walk-on Vinny Zaccario turned in a second consecutive strong outing in the Tigers’ 33-30 win over Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday, booting a 25-yard game-winning field goal with two seconds remaining. He also had a 34-yarder and made all three of his extra-point attempts to help Memphis (3-3, 1-2 C-USA) win its third consecutive game.

In two games, Zaccario has made all five of his field goal attempts and five of six extra-point tries. Reagan has played equally well, connecting on five of his seven field goal attempts and making all 13 of his extra-point tries.

"What can I say about Vinny? He’s been great," Memphis head coach Tommy West told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "Maybe now we have a kicking controversy. The kid has done a great job."

Webb still learning

Alabama-Birmingham junior quarterback Joe Webb didn’t do his team any favors by losing two fumbles in Saturday’s 33-30 loss to Memphis. But he did enough in other areas to keep the Blazers in the contest.

Webb threw for 235 yards and a touchdown and ran for a team-high 93 yards and three more scores in Saturday’s game. His 10-yard touchdown run tied the game at 30 with 4:10 remaining, but Memphis escaped with the victory when Memphis freshman kicker Vinny Zaccario hit a game-winning 25-yard field goal with two seconds left.

It wasn’t a bad outing for Webb, who didn’t practice much last week because of a left hip injury.

"He competed like he always does, did a lot of great things, but I’ve got to get him to stop turning the ball over," UAB head coach Neil Callaway told the Birmingham News.

Turnovers have been a problem for Webb, who is in his first season as full-time starter after playing mostly at wide receiver last year. He has lost four fumbles and thrown six interceptions in six games. Three of those interceptions came in a 35-3 loss to Tennessee on Sept. 13.

But Webb has done plenty of good things, particularly in the running game. In addition to throwing for 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns, he’s rushed for a team-leading 516 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 5.7 yards a carry.

Webb has a bright future, and this bodes well for UAB (1-5, 0-2 Conference USA), which is still in the midst of a rebuilding project.

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