Look for offensive shootout as Tulsa faces Bowling Green in GMAC Bowl
Jan. 5, 2008
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - Look for another basketball-like final score in the GMAC Bowl.
Tulsa (9-4) brings the nation's top offense into Sunday night's game, and Bowling Green (8-4) is no slouch, either. The game that once produced the highest scoring bowl has all the makings for another offensive shootout.
Defensive tackle Sean O'Drobinak finds all that talk a bit, well, offensive.
"The media's going to hype it up to be a track meet," said Bowling Green's O'Drobinak. "I feel that our defense plays its best football when we're the underdogs. Hopefully that streak carries over."
The Golden Hurricane bring an offense that averages 543 yards. They have a good shot at making NCAA history even if the game doesn't approach the 125-point scoring festival Marshall and East Carolina engaged in back in the 2001 GMAC Bowl. Bowling Green leads the Mid-American Conference in passing offense.
Led by senior quarterback Paul Smith, Tulsa is seeking its first 10-win season since 1991.
If Smith gets 247 passing yards, including at least 45 to Charles Clay, Tulsa becomes the first team in NCAA history to have a 5,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and three 1,000-yard receivers. Tarrion Adams has run for 1,113 yards while Brennan Marion (1,244) and Trae Johnson (1,039) have also reached four digits in receiving.
This game means more to Smith than those milestones.
"It means a tremendous amount to me, for no other reason than the fact that it's my last game," said Smith, who passed for 4,753 yards and 42 touchdowns and run for a team-leading 12 scores. "The 10 wins and the record and all the things that come with this season have been great, but those are things to enjoy in the future. For me, the only way to enjoy this is to win. That's my main focus."
Plus, he need look no further than the Sugar Bowl to see what can happen to a high-powered offense and a prolific senior quarterback in a bowl game. Hawaii's Colt Brennan was intercepted three times and passed for just 169 yards in a blowout loss to Georgia.
Brennan was the nation's top passer and Smith No. 3.
"I don't think much about that," Smith said. "I tend to think pretty positively. Obviously I try to avoid arrogance when it comes to our offense, but you've got to believe if you go out and execute, there's nobody out there that can stop you."
Bowling Green has been fairly good at stopping the pass so far, ranking 29th nationally in pass defense. Safety P.J. Mahone's 220 yards in interception returns is tied for first in the nation, while cornerback Kenny Lewis has forced four fumbles.
"They have a lot athleticism," Smith said. "Anytime the ball's up in the air or even on the ground they seem to swarm to it. They really do a good job of getting to the ball when it's available.
"What we've really focused on is taking care of the ball, especially in bowl games when teams tend not do very well with that."
The Bowling Green offense doesn't have Tulsa-like numbers, but it has been pretty good. Quarterback Tyler Sheehan and the Falcons are averaging 287 yards through the air while racking up an average of 184 rushing yards over the last six games. Sheehan tops Smith in at least one category: touchdown receptions, with two. He is one of 21 players in this game with TD catches this season.
"They remind me a lot of our team," Graham said. "They've got a really explosive offense. They've got some big-play guys at wide receiver. I think their quarterback is what makes things work for them.
"They play with a chip on their shoulder. They're a very, very physical team. They've just quietly won eight football games."
Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon asked his players which team Tulsa reminded them of the most.
"All our guys said, 'Well, they're like us,"' he said.
Bowling Green has scored 30-plus points eight times this season, one fewer than Tulsa. Plus, the Golden Hurricane defense is giving up a whopping 469 yards a game, 111th of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
With apologies to O'Drobinak, a shootout is entirely possible.
"I don't think it's going to be 3-0," said Brandon, whose team has won four straight bowl games. "I expect our defense to get some stops. Offensively when we get possessions, we've got to score some points. Hopefully, it's not a whichever team gets the ball last type deal."
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