Tulsa looks to snap series skid vs. Navy
A 3-0 start in the American Athletic Conference and a two-game road winning streak may seem like modest accomplishments for Tulsa as it heads into another league clash Saturday at Navy.
Nonetheless, Tulsa has proven it can overcome large differentials after recovering from deficits of 18 and 14 points in two of its victories.
“Our team’s resilient,” sixth-year coach Philip Montgomery said of his 3-1 squad. “We’ve been in that (comeback) situation more times than probably we want to talk about. Our team doesn’t panic.”
Zach Smith, in his second season quarterbacking the Golden Hurricane after transferring from Baylor, will steer Tulsa into its fourth road test in five games. The trip provides a chance to snap a five-game skid in the series with Navy (3-4, 3-2 AAC).
“This is a team we’ve been close to but haven’t got on top of yet,” Montgomery said. “But I don’t see our players in the sense, ‘Oh, we got to play Navy,’ and be nervous about that. They’re excited.”
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo is not surprised to see Tulsa get off to its best league start in seven years as an AAC member.
“I’ve always felt they were a good football program, even though they may not have won a lot of games,” said Niumatalolo. “I just feel like the ball is bouncing their way this year.”
No question the ball — or at least a booth review — favored Tulsa in a 34-30 win last week over East Carolina.
Replay officials reversed a call on the field, ruling Tulsa running back TK Wilkerson down before losing a fumble with fewer than two minutes remaining. Tulsa retained possession and scored the go-ahead touchdown. The AAC office announced the next day that the replay official made a mistake, though the outcome of the game stands.
Navy looked to transform its offense in a 51-37 loss last week at SMU, mostly scrapping its trademark triple option in favor of designed calls sent in from the sideline. The Midshipmen attempted 30 passes and suffered their 10th consecutive defeat when throwing that often.
Quarterbacks Dalen Morris and Tyger Goslin combined to pass for 239 yards, the most by a Navy team since 2016.
“The option is always going to be part of our game. We have to be smart about how we do different things,” said Niumatalolo, who admits the Midshipmen cannot rely too heavily on the pass while attempting to find the right offensive balance.
Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins, a two-time AAC defensive player of the week, has eight tackles for loss. Despite any identity crisis Navy might be going through, Montgomery knows his run-stoppers must excel.
“Basically,” Montgomery said, “you take your whole defensive playbook and your schematic plan, put it over to the side of your desk and figure out a whole new deal for them.”
The Navy defense, allowing 445.3 yards and 37.0 points on average, has been thinned by injuries in recent games. Its leading tackler, Diego Fagot (8.8 tackles per game), is dealing with a tender ankle that kept him out in the second half at SMU.
–Field Level Media