The two new head coaches in the Big East (Todd Graham and Dana Holgorsen) are familiar to USF's Skip Holtz -- he faced them both at his previous stop in East Carolina. When USF prepares to meet Pittsburgh and West Virginia, we'll look back at some of those games and see what we can glean from them to get ready for the present day.
The year after Holtz's Pirates beat Graham's Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the 2008 Conference USA championship game, East Carolina visited Tulsa again during the 2009 regular season. While that year's Pirates team didn't have the signature wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia that the 2008 team did, the senior-laden group might have been Holtz's best team in Greenville.
While the Pirates fit through a narrow window of opportunity to win their 2008 meeting, the game on November 15, 2009, was a different story. East Carolina came out flying, scoring the first 20 points of the game while holding Tulsa to punts on all of their first six possessions. Ben Hartman kicked two field goals, and Patrick Pinkney threw touchdown passes to Darryl Freeney and Dominique Lindsay to give the Pirates a 20-0 lead late in the first half.
But a Todd Graham offense is not often out of a game, even trailing by 20 points. G.J. Kinne led a touchdown drive just before halftime to give the Golden Hurricane a little momentum going into the locker room. Then they bookended the half with another scoring drive to start the third quarter. Kevin Fitzpatrick hit a 51-yard field goal to cut East Carolina's lead to 20-10. After Hartman's third field goal for the Pirates, Damaris Johnson returned a kickoff 57 yards and then finished a short Tulsa drive with a 9-yard touchdown reception to pull the Golden Hurricane to within 23-17. Johnson had a monster day, catching 14 passes and recording 321 all-purpose yards.
Tulsa took possession of the ball with 12:17 left in the game on their own 27-yard line, still trailing 23-17 and looking to take their first lead of the night. But instead, Kinne's pass was intercepted by Emanuel Davis and returned it 42 yards for a score, making it 30-17 Pirates. It was the first of three defensive touchdowns East Carolina would score in the final period -- Levin Neal took another Kinne INT in from 57 yards out, and later Scotty Robinson sacked Kinne and forced a fumble that 314-pound defensive tackle Jay Ross ran back for a 50-yard FAT GUY TOUCHDOWN to complete the scoring. In addition to the 21-point outburst, the Pirates' defense also turned Tulsa over on downs after the Golden Hurricane drove all the way to the East Carolina 7-yard line.
All those defensive touchdowns obscured the Pirates' offensive performance. After the game, Holtz said the first-half performance, when ECU rolled up 383 yards of offense, "might have been as fine a first half as I've seen us play on offense since I've been here, in five years." In all, East Carolina outgained Tulsa 517-266 on the exact same number of plays (77 apiece). Pinkney was 20-for-29 for 275 yards and two scores, and Dominique Lindsay added 172 yards rushing on 31 carries.
Tulsa Drops Fifth Straight (via SportsNetOklahoma)
If you were to plot this game and the 2008 game as points on a graph of the ways USF could beat Pittsburgh, they might be the furthest points in either direction. Pittsburgh clearly has more talent on defense than Tulsa did in 2009, but USF's offense is also executing at a level they didn't come close to last season. The Bulls can win without a bushel of turnovers, but the guess here is that they won't run up a big number on offense, either... to say nothing of what the Panthers' inconsistent offense might run into against the USF defense. Their big vulnerability (downfield pass defense) may not be seriously exploited by Tino Sunseri's inaccurate arm, and he might not have time to even try it with the weak Pittsburgh offensive line and pass rushing ability of the Bulls' defensive ends.