Tulsa’s football program has found its footing once again in this slippery season of highs and lows. After the absolute debacle that was the Tulane game, there were many questions posed by this reporter: how will the offense operate with a new quarterback at the helm? What adjustments will be made on the defensive side of the ball to stop the deluge of yards and points given up each week? Will this squad steel its resolve in the face of further adversity, or roll over and lose by 34 points again?
In the first half of this festive Homecoming game, it seemed as though these doubts would remain unanswered. QB Luke Skipper’s offense generated only 93 yards, Houston’s Kyle Postma picked apart the TU secondary, and it took three attempts from the 1 yard line before Chad President finally squeaked into the end zone for TU’s first touchdown of the game (on a drive which would not have been possible if not for a fantastic interception and return by safety McKinley Whitfield). Down 10-7, and with Houston’s offense poised to continue its productivity, fans had little to look forward to after the Sound of the Golden Hurricane marching band’s halftime show.
Then, somewhere, a light switched on.
The second half saw a completely different team emerge from the locker room. The defense looked sharp and alert, sacking Postma out of scoring range and forcing the Cougars to punt. Then the offense did what it does best: it ran. In fact, Shamari Brooks and D’Angelo Brewer ran away with the proverbial spoon from goal line to goal line, setting up a Redford Jones field goal to tie the game at 10 apiece. The defense then responded with an electric interception to fire up the home crowd and set up President’s second rushing TD of the day.
Tulsa never trailed again in what was aptly described by ESPN commentator Al Groh as a “total team victory”. The offense racked up 323 yards in a flawless second half (for a game total of 416) topped off by a 46-yard touchdown run by Brewer. But the true Homecoming hero was TU’s defense, shrinking last week’s iceberg-sized holes and giving Houston’s offense nowhere to go. It was a relief to see an abundance of team tackles and few plays for big gains in the best effort put forward all year. The capstone on this watershed game was a beautiful forced fumble returned for a touchdown in the dying seconds to give the Hurricane a very satisfying 45-17 win.
Are there still areas in need of improvement? Absolutely. Penalty yardage was a new issue: this week’s 9 penalties for 70 yards was the second-highest mark all season, and will cost this team dearly if it becomes a habit against teams less prone to mistakes than Houston. The defense, for all the accolades it deserves for its performance, needs to continue to improve in yards allowed, especially in the rushing game. The offense has settled into a balanced groove with its dynamic duo of duos (Skipper/President and Brewer/Brooks) but it should be wary of the road ahead and avoid resting on its laurels if it wishes to continue its success.
The schedule ahead is daunting, with a trip to Connecticut next week to take on the Huskies and a devastating three game stretch against underrated SMU, Memphis, and conference powerhouse USF. But the student fanbase can take this week to celebrate the pleasant surprise that was Homecoming 2017.