PROVO A Hurricane's a-comin' to LaVell Edwards Stadium.
When the Tulsa Golden Hurricane invades Provo on Saturday (2 p.m.), it will be led by coach Steve Kragthorpe, who personally witnessed the rise of BYU football as a kid, and, some 30 years later, has resurrected Tulsa football.
Kragthorpe has put the "Golden" back in the Golden Hurricane.
Consider this: He took over a program that was coming off of 11 consecutive losing seasons, and a 2-21 mark in the previous two, and turned in a winning record in his first season, in 2003.
In four seasons, he's posted a modest 22-17 record, but Tulsa enjoyed a breakout season a year ago, as the Hurricane went 9-4, won the Conference USA title and defeated Fresno State in the Liberty Bowl. Three of its wins were by seven points or less.
The Golden Hurricane has won five straight and eight of its last nine, dating back to last season, and people are noticing. Sports Illustrated recently listed Kragthorpe, 41, as one of three coaches on the rise.
After opening the 2006 season last week with a 45-7 romp over Division I-AA Stephen F. Austin, Tulsa will try to gain some added national respect with a victory at BYU. A win could have long-term implications, though Kragthorpe downplays such talk.
"Every game has an implication on bowls. We're taking each game one at a time," Kragthorpe said. "No game is more important than any other and no game is less important than any other."
No doubt that this game will be a nostalgic one for Kragthorpe, the son of former BYU offensive line coach Dave Kragthorpe. Steve Kragthorpe lived in Provo from 1970-79, hanging around the BYU football team during some memorable seasons. He watched the Cougars ascend from mediocrity to great heights during his 10 years at BYU.
Kragthorpe remembers being locked in lockers and thrown in whirlpools by Cougar players like Jim McMahon, Marc Wilson, Andy Reid and Brian Billick. McMahon and Wilson, of course, were legendary BYU quarterbacks and went on to NFL success while Reid and Billick are currently NFL head coaches.
"In a lot of respects," Kragthorpe said of Saturday's game, "yes, it will be like going home."
Kragthorpe counts former BYU coach LaVell Edwards as a mentor and has patterned much of what he's done in his program after what Edwards did at BYU. Because he's watched so many games from inside Edwards Stadium, he knows what his players are facing.
"Most of the guys on our team, the guys that are starters or front-line players, have been in those types of environments before," he said. "BYU is a tough place to play. It's loud and they have a great crowd that's right up on top of you," he said. "It's a great place to play. It's a scenic place to play with the mountains right in the background. It's a great grass field. They've got rabid fans."
As if that connection to BYU wasn't enough, it gets even better. Kragthorpe and BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall were graduate assistant coaches together in 1989 at Oregon State, where Dave Kragthorpe was the head coach. Mendenhall played for Dave Kragthorpe for two years at OSU. Steve Kragthorpe and Mendenhall also coached together for two years at Northern Arizona. Mendenhall regards Kragthorpe as one of his best friends in the coaching business.
"I consider him one of the best head coaches that I've seen at this point at a relatively earlier stage in his career," Mendenhall said of Kragthorpe.
What's more, Tulsa's offensive coordinator, Charlie Stubbs, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at BYU in 1983-84 before moving on to Oregon State from 1985-1990. After he was hired as head coach in 2004, Mendenhall considered Stubbs for the quarterbacks coaching job at BYU.
The Golden Hurricane arrives in Provo with a high-powered offense that averaged 33 points per game last season. Kragthorpe's teams are 20-4 when scoring more than 30 points.
"Nine wins and a conference championship team coming in, it gives us no reason to expect it to be easy and we expect it to go right down to the end again," Mendenhall said.
Tulsa's offensive line is touted as the most experienced in the nation with a combined 95 career starts. Junior quarterback Paul Smith threw for 2,847 yards and 20 touchdowns last year and led the C-USA in passing efficiency at 142.9."His greatest strength is his ability to create," Mendenhall said of Smith. "He is definitely not afraid to run the ball. You'll see a fake zone with an option back where the quarterback will read the end and keep the ball. They get him out of the pocket frequently on boot and he is very mobile. His ability to create is why they are so effective on third down. He can run it, dive, pitch it sideways, throw it underhand, he just finds a way to move the chains in a manner that does not divert from offense or the game plan they have. He is a productive player and I think the offense is driven by his play."
Comment on this story NOTES: Overshadowed by its prolific offense, Tulsa's defense is underrated. The Hurricane were No. 40 nationally in total defense and No. 43 in scoring defense last season. Tulsa was No. 3 in defensive interceptions, with 22. They were No. 3 nationally in turnovers gained with 36 ... This marks Tulsa's first visit to Provo since 1997, when the Golden Hurricane and the Cougars were members of the Western Athletic Conference. BYU won that contest, 49-39 ... This is the sixth meeting between BYU and Tulsa. BYU leads the all-time series, 5-0 ... Tulsa linebacker Nick Bunting and offensive tackle Jeff Perrett have the longest current active streak on the Tulsa team for starts with 36.