- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tulsa’s offense struggled last year. Keyarris Garrett’s return is one reason the Golden Hurricane believe they can improve as they enter the American Athletic Conference.

Garrett missed most of last season with a broken leg. The previous year, the wide receiver caught 67 passes for 845 yards and nine touchdowns. Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said Garrett looks good heading into the season opener Thursday at home against Tulane.

“He is a matchup problem for most people, and because of that, you tend to get some safety helping over the top, or at least getting close,” Blankenship said. “If they leave him one-on-one, he’s definitely a guy that we want to throw to one on one.”

Dane Evans returns as the quarterback. He threw just four touchdown passes and 10 interceptions while completing just 43 percent of his passes last season. Blankenship said Evans should be much better in 2014.

“I am very confident about what we have seen through fall camp,” Blankenship said. “It’s got to manifest itself on the field on Thursday night. That’s what we have to see, is that we continue to do what we’ve prepared to do, that we don’t take steps backward, and I’m confident that’s going to happen.”

Here are some things to watch for from the Golden Hurricane this season:

WHO REPLACES WATTS? Trey Watts was most of the offense last season. He ran for 1,329 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 46 passes for 395 yards and another score. Blankenship is excited about freshman D’Angelo Brewer.

“He’s definitely a guy that’s going to get action as we go along. Hopefully he’s splitting that with two or three other guys, but there is no way we’re not going to be using D’Angelo. He’s too big a playmaker.

Junior college transfer Tavarreon Dickerson and James Flanders also should get plenty of carries. Flanders scored twice in the spring game.

COACHING CHANGE: Offensive coordinator Greg Peterson was let go, and offensive line coach Denver Johnson was promoted. Blankenship’s son, Josh, is the new quarterbacks coach. Bill Blankenship hopes the changes lead to better results.

“We can build on excuses from the past,” he said. “We don’t think that’s healthy. The point is, I think we’ve gone back and really tailored this offense to suit the personnel that we have.”

GARRETT’S HELPERS: Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson are key returning pass catchers from last season. Lucas caught 32 passes for 442 yards and a touchdown last season. Atkinson caught nine passes for 76 yards. Freshman Nigel Carter also should be a factor.

WEIRD SCHEDULE: Tulsa plays Tulane on Thursday night, Memphis on Friday, Oct. 31, Central Florida on Friday, Nov. 14, and East Carolina on Friday, Nov. 28.

“I think that’s just where it’s gotten to in college football, certainly in our conference,” Bill Blankenship said. “We have a tremendous television contract that gets us a lot of exposure, but with that, you’re going to play on Friday night, you’re going to play an occasional Thursday night game.”

IMPROVED DEFENSE? Tulsa returns all but one starter on defense. Junior safety Michael Mudoh had a team-high 133 tackles last season to lead Conference USA and rank fourth nationally. He had eight games with at least 10 tackles, including a personal-best 17 at Bowling Green.

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