Thursday, September 18, 2008
Patience Pays Off for Tulsa QB
By Greg Archuleta
Journal Staff Writer
David Johnson is the perfect quarterback to lead the Tulsa football team as it christens a renovated H.A. Chapman Stadium on Saturday against the University of New Mexico.
The Golden Hurricane will be in throwback jerseys, and Johnson is a throwback QB.
The fifth-year senior showed a patience and perseverance that is becoming increasingly difficult to find among college programs by waiting his turn behind sensation Paul Smith
Smith threw for a school-record 5,065 yards with 47 touchdowns as a senior in 2007. He finished with 10,936 passing yards and 83 TDs for his career.
All that time, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Johnson studied from the sidelines and pointed to 2008 for his opportunity.
"Most guys that have the talent David Johnson has would've transferred and left," Tulsa coach Todd Graham says. "Nowadays, if quarterbacks don't play right away, they just go somewhere else. David loves this program. He battled Paul for the starting job when Paul earned it, so it speaks volumes about his character that he wanted to be a Hurricane."
Now that Johnson has his turn, he has been a force, sweeping his way atop the NCAA leaderboard in passing efficiency.
The Portland, Ore., native has a rating of 241.58, more than 27 points better than second-place Sam Bradford of Oklahoma.
Johnson is completing 78.9 percent of his passes (45-of-57) for 750 yards, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions in leading the Golden Hurricane to a 2-0 start.
"To be honest, I had no idea I was leading the nation in anything until people from around Tulsa started congratulating me and came up and told me," Johnson says during a phone interview from Tulsa. "I don't really look at stats a lot; I just try to keep my head in the game and focus on winning."
Johnson is perfect for the Hurricane scheme, Graham says, because he does exactly what he is coached to do.
"We told Dave to be Dave Johnson and not to be Paul Smith," Graham says. "We ask him to manage our offense and not put the football in jeopardy, not turn the ball over."
That seems to be sound strategy, considering the fact that Tulsa's version of the spread offense scored 41.1 points per game last season and is off to a better start in 2008 at 50.5 points per game.
The Hurricane have scored 40 points or more in seven of their last eight games.
"It's the most unique offense I've ever watched on film," UNM coach Rocky Long says. "There's much more variety of formations, much more variety in running plays, a lot of smoke and mirrors.
"They'll put tackles out at wide receiver to hide a tight end, they'll put a tackle in the slot, put a running back at the line of scrimmage and put a tackle in the backfield to be the lead blocker. They're no-huddle, and guys are running in and out. I'm impressed with how they do all that stuff and execute as well as they do."
When Johnson took over from Smith, he'd already been in the system long enough to step in and not miss a beat. Plus, Tulsa had a bye last week and has had two weeks to prepare for the Lobos.
"It really helped us focus on fundamentals and techniques and just getting better," Johnson says.
Better? Smith had a rating of "only" 159.85, and he threw 47 TD passes. Johnson can't rate too much higher.
"Well, he'll face his toughest challenge this week against New Mexico," Graham says.
Couldn't be any tougher than waiting four years to wait for his shot.
"Just to be able to get off to a great start is exciting," the throwback says "But we've got New Mexico this week and we can't rest on what we've done."
UNM at Tulsa, 5 p.m. TV: none. Radio: KKOB-AM (770)