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For Holliday, Tulsa still reigning C-USA champ

Nov. 13, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- As Tulsa comes into Thursday's contest, the Golden Hurricane sport a 2-7 record that has been a surprise.

However, when Marshall University football head coach Doc Holliday looked at tape of the Golden Hurricane, he still saw the same team that won the 2012 Conference USA championship.

Despite the disappointing record, Tulsa is an extremely dangerous team with one of the conference's best players in do-it-all running back Trey Watts.

Watts has rushed for 857 yards, leads Tulsa in receptions with 41 and is also an explosive punt and kick returner, as evidenced by his 95-yard return against Marshall in last year's matchup between the teams -- a 45-38 Tulsa win in Huntington.

Watts is one of several pieces that Holliday says makes Tulsa (2-7 season, 1-4 Conference USA) an extremely dangerous team as the Thundering Herd (6-3 season, 4-1 conference) heads to H.A. Chapman Stadium for Thursday's 7:30 p.m. matchup. The game will be televised on FS1, which is Ch. 50 on Huntington Comcast cable.

"Tulsa is a team that won Conference USA last year and they have a lot of players that can still play," Holliday said. "They are a very capable team and we have to make sure that we are very well prepared."

Part of the difference in the 2012 Tulsa Golden Hurricane team and the 2013 team has been the abundance of turnovers this season.

Tulsa has turned the ball over 26 times with 13 fumbles and 13 interceptions.

Compare that to the 2012 team that had only 24 turnovers in a total of 14 games and its nearly double the per-game output of turnovers.

"If you look at what they've done, they do turn the ball over," Holliday said. "When they do a good job of protecting the football, they are a heck of a football team. They've had turnovers at the wrong times and it's hurt them."

Tulsa has also been decimated by losing two of its top players -- wide receiver Keyarris Garrett and safety Demarco Nelson. The production coming in behind those all-conference players has not been where the Golden Hurricane needed it to be.

With Garrett's absence following the second game of the season, no consistent big play threat has emerged in the passing game. Jordan James leads the Tulsa wide receivers with 31 catches, but no receiver is averaging more than four catches or 50 yards per game.

That puts lots of pressure on Watts and the Tulsa rushing attack.

Defensively, the loss of Nelson was big for the Golden Hurricane. Nelson was a playmaking safety who was one of the tops in the nation.

However, the NCAA ruled him ineligible and the defense has struggled, allowing 34 points per game.

Still, Holliday knows the talent Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship possesses and he knows his team is in for a fight.

"They are only one year removed from winning 12 or 13 games," Holliday said. "They are also in an area where they can recruit a lot of really talented players. We're going to get their best shot and I expect them to play extremely hard. I know they will. Our guys have to be ready to play."

DECEIVING RECORD?: While Tulsa comes in at 2-7 overall, they have faced a gauntlet schedule in their final season in C-USA.

In addition to having already faced the West Division leaders in Rice and Tulane early when the newcomers were young, they have also battled UTSA and East Carolina in the past two weeks.

Add in losses to Oklahoma, Iowa State and Bowling Green and there are the seven losses.

The two losses to West Division leaders Rice and Tulane came by a total of 10 points with the Rice loss going to overtime.

SOMEONE'S GOTTA WIN: Both Tulsa and Marshall have experience playing on Thursdays this year.

Neither has the experience of winning, though.

Tulsa fell in its Thursday appearances to Bowling Green and Iowa State while Marshall's lone Thursday contest was also the Herd's lone C-USA loss -- a 51-49 setback at Middle Tennessee.

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