TULSA, Oklahoma — Tulsa thinks getting back on track offensively is key to a successful debut in the American Athletic Conference.
The Golden Hurricane ranked in the top 30 in a couple of key offensive categories in 2012, when the team finished 11-3 with a Liberty Bowl win over Iowa State and a Conference USA championship. But they struggled mightily last season.
The team ranked 102nd in scoring (21.1 points per game), 100th in total offense (366.2 yards), 99th in passing offense (191.4 yards), 118th in passing efficiency (49 percent) and 69th in rushing offense (164.8 yards) among the nation's 123 FBS teams.
"Our offense was dysfunctional," coach Bill Blankenship said Monday at the team's media day event. "By the end of the season we were pitiful. We felt like we had to retool our offense."
Offensive coordinator Greg Peterson was let go in January, and Blankenship promoted offensive line coach Denver Johnson to that important role. Blankenship's son, Josh, also takes over as quarterbacks coach. The playbook also was streamlined.
If Tulsa is to improve this year on offense, it's going to need some of its younger players to grow up in a hurry. It has just one senior right now in the starting rotation in tackle Davis Walton, who is nursing an injury.
Redshirt sophomore Dane Evans was pressed into action at quarterback in Game 7 a year ago. His youth showed as he completed just 43 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He did establish himself in spring drills as the starter.
"This year definitely feels a lot better," Evans said. "I put added pressure on myself last year. My completion rate last year was just horrible so I worked a lot during the offseason on my footwork. I kind of had happy feet last year. Now, I've structured my feet for the route."
The return of wideout Keyarris Garrett should help as well. Garrett missed most of the 2013 season with a broken leg.
"I'm a better coach with him on the field," Blankenship said.
Said Garrett: "It's exciting to be back. I'm pain free. I've gotten my strength back in my legs. Hopefully me being back will give the offense a boost."
Tulsa has a pair of newcomers at running back in junior college transfer Tavarreon Dickerson and James Flanders. The sophomore duo brings speed and agility to the position. Flanders was impressive in the spring game, running for a pair of touchdowns.
Selected to finish last in the conference was not lost on the players or Blankenship.
"I can assure it is noticed," Blankenship said. "As for motivation, our motivation comes from last year. We know we have to be better. We know we're better than that."