If you believe the “rising tide raises all boats” theory, Houston is raising the competitiveness in the American Athletic Conference.
The night after Memphis rallied to hold off Temple to win its AAC opener and move to 4-1 overall, Tulsa followed suit. No team might be the equal of the Cougars this season, but the competitors are working hard to keep up.
Tulsa posted its second consecutive overtime victory Friday with a 43-40 defeat of visiting SMU. In its previous game, the Golden Hurricane set a school record for biggest comeback, overcoming a 31-0 deficit at Fresno State and winning in double OT. Against the Mustangs, Tulsa tied another school record – for penalties.
“They’re running years off my life right now, but they’re finding ways to win,” Tulsa coach Phillip Montgomery said.
Golden Hurricane quarterback Dane Evans, who scored the winning touchdown on an 18-yard run at Fresno State in the second overtime, repeated his heroics. After the Tulsa defense held SMU to a field goal, Evans won it with a 14-yard scamper on a zone-read keeper – his only carry of the game.
“We had been setting that up,” said Evans, who was untouched on the scoring run. “It was wide open.”
The game reached the four-hour mark before overtime and the scoreboard went back and forth like windshield wipers in a downpour, with five lead changes from late in the first half until SMU tied it to force OT.
The Mustangs, who entered the game tied for first in FBS with 12 interceptions, got a momentum-shifting pick from Darrion Millines. His 45-yard return and a roughness penalty on Tulsa led to Braeden West’s 4-yard touchdown run that put SMU ahead 34-30 with 8:31remaining.
Tulsa countered with a clutch drive that converted two third downs before D’Angelo Brewer broke loose for a 35-yard scoring run to regain the lead, 37-34, with 5:32 to play.
The Golden Hurricane finished with 315 yards rushing. Brewer had 182 yards on 38 carries while James Flanders finished with 132 on 13 attempts. It was the second consecutive games both backs gained 100-plus yards. Flanders had a 61-yard TD run in the first quarter.
SMU dropped to 2-4 overall and 0-2 in the AAC. The Mustangs’ issue in its previous games had been putting together a full 60 minutes; they were tied 6-all at halftime before losing at Baylor, 40-13, and were down just 6-3 to TCU before losing 33-3.
Second-year coach Chad Morris’ team played the full 60 against Tulsa, but unfortunately for the Mustangs, regulation ended in a tie and they couldn’t close the deal in overtime.
“I think the majority of our areas was the best we played to this point and that’s what I challenged them to do this week,” said Morris, whose offense was limited by converting just four of 19 third-down opportunities. “It’s one of those times where you hope something eventually bounces your way and right now it’s not happening just yet.”
Tulsa wore all-black uniforms for a “black-out” promotion at H.A. Chapman Stadium. The Golden Hurricane played like they were stumbling around in a dark room looking for a light switch.
Tulsa finished with 149 penalty yards on 17 flags; that number of penalties tied a school record set in 1951.
In the first half, the Golden Hurricane had back-to-back offside penalties on kickoffs after they pulled to within 17-13; those mistakes gave SMU an extra 27 yards in field position and led to a Mustangs field goal. In the second half after going ahead 37-34, Tulsa kickoff out of bounds but the Mustangs couldn’t take advantage.
Referee Tracy Jones got enough air time to have his own prime-time series. There were 23 accepted penalties and on at least three occasions the crew tossed flags but then picked them up as no-calls.
“Obviously the penalties (are) something that jumps out at you,” said Montgomery, whose team’s only loss came at second-ranked Ohio State. “I don’t think there are any ugly wins. For me, every win’s beautiful. Every win you get in college football is a beautiful, beautiful win.”
Tulsa is 4-1 for just the third time since 1982. It was a ragged performance that produced a victory and the Golden Hurricane proved they could overcome self-inflicted wounds. They’ll need to play better against their next opponent – they’re at Houston on Oct. 15.