Sports writer Myles Few says TU football had too many mistakes this weekend.
The Golden Hurricane will return to Tulsa disappointed with their first conference loss of the year, falling 20-17 to the Florida Atlantic University Owls. The Owls came into the matchup off of a much-needed bye week after having a tough start to their season, losing three of their first four matchups of the year and losing their starting quarterback, Casey Thompson, for the remainder of the year in his third game with the team. The Golden Hurricane, on the other hand, came into the game after their big win in their conference opener last week against Temple and improved their record to 3-2. For FAU, this would be their first conference game in their inaugural season as members of the American Athletic Conference, and they got to play in front of their home fans for the first time in nearly a month. Over 21,000 fans were in attendance at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, and Owls’ kicker Carter Davis kicked it off to the Golden Hurricane to start the game.
The opening drive saw Tulsa move the ball down the field comfortably. They gained 51 yards in nine plays, including a pickup of 26 on a quarterback rush by redshirt freshman Cardell Williams, the AAC Offensive Player of the Week after his performance last Saturday against Temple, where he tallied 334 total yards and four total touchdowns. However, on the 10th play on the drive, Williams dropped back to pass from the FAU 26-yard line and threw a high pass intended for running back Tahj Gary that landed in the hands of FAU defensive back Jayden Williams, resulting in an interception for the Owls. The Owls would make TU pay for their mistake by making the score 7-0 after a one-yard touchdown run by senior halfback, Larry McCammon III.
The first quarter continued to be unforgiving for the Golden Hurricane, as they attempted to go for it on fourth down on their next drive with a fake punt, only to have a misfire on the snap that gave the Owls the ball inside TU territory, where they would record their second score of the game, coming from McCammon III again after a 10-yard touchdown run.
TU finally put themselves on the scoreboard in the second quarter with two big third-down passes from Williams, linking up with Braylin Presley for a pickup of 18 yards and Carl Chester for 23 yards, before Williams finally took it in himself for a seven-yard touchdown run to make the score 7-14 with 9:07 to go until halftime. The Owls moved the ball well on their next drive, but quarterback Daniel Richardson forced a tough pass on third down to his favorite receiver LaJohntay Webster that tipped off his hands and was reeled in by Tulsa safety Jaise Oliver for a big interception. Tulsa could not capitalize on this momentum and instead went three-and-out on their next offensive drive before allowing the Owls to march down the field to get three points just before halftime, which made the score 17-7 heading into the break.
A slow start with too many mistakes was the story of the first half for the Golden Hurricane, and that theme soon continued in the third quarter. On the first drive of the second half for Tulsa, Williams tried to go deep to his receiver Presley, but it ended up in the hands of FAU safety Jarron Morris, making Williams’ second interception of the game and seventh of the season. However, the Owls’ offense was also struggling to move the ball to start the second half as rain began pouring, so they were only able to pick up nine yards on their first two drives of the third quarter, leaving the door open for Tulsa to get back into the game.
TU decided it was time to take advantage of this chance. On their next drive, a strong 20-yard run from Anthony Watkins and another 19-yard run by Williams put the Golden Hurricane in the red zone, where they were able to put three points on the board thanks to their reliable kicker Chase Meyer, making it 17-10 with 7:09 left in the third quarter. It was around this point that the weather started to become a large factor in the game, as both teams’ passing offense slowed down tremendously thanks to the heavy rain in Boca Raton. The third quarter dwindled away after a couple of punts from both teams, still struggling to deal with the rain.
That all changed when the Owls’ backup running back Kobe Lewis was able to explode for a 58-yard run that put FAU in field goal range, giving them a 20-10 with 12:44 left in the fourth quarter. After another three-and-out from the Tulsa offense, this is when TU head coach Kevin Wilson decided to make a big decision: he would sub in Braylon Braxton, Tulsa’s starting quarterback at the beginning of the year who had not played since the first game of the season after sustaining an injury.
With 7:56 left in the fourth quarter, Braxton took the field for the first time in over a month in extremely heavy rain with his team down two possessions. He responded by picking up 46 yards on a massive run up the middle of the field, and by scoring a touchdown on his first passing attempt of the game, dropping a 20-yard dime to freshman tight end Luke McGary. FAU could not move the ball once more, and the TU defense came up with a big stop due to a clutch sack from defensive end Ben Kopenski on third down. An incredible 71-yard punt from FAU punter Logan Lupo pinned Braxton and the Golden Hurricane on their five-yard line with just 3:30 left to play. Braxton would be met with a fourth down after a few incomplete passes, but he managed to find receiver Kamdyn Benjamin for a first down, keeping the game alive and pushing further into FAU territory where he followed up with another massive passing play to senior receiver Malachi Jones, who also was coming back from injury. However, the magic would soon end, as TU was unable to convert another fourth down and eight from the FAU 47-yard line to keep the game alive due to a game-winning sack by Owls’ edge rusher Jackson Ambush.
This loss puts the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at 3-3 on the season, with a 1-1 record in conference play so far. The Owls improve to 2-3 on the year with an undefeated start to conference play at 1-0. Tulsa is headed into a bye week but looks ahead to Oct. 19 when they will return home to H.A. Chapman Stadium to host another new member of the AAC, the Rice University Owls. Rice, also sitting at 3-3 overall with a 1-1 record in conference play, will be another big test for the Golden Hurricane.