Dec 31, 2020; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Tulsa Golden Hurricane wide receiver Josh Johnson (13) is tackled by Mississippi State Bulldogs cornerback Emmanuel Forbes (13) during the first half at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State edges No. 24 Tulsa in Armed Forces Bowl

Will Rogers threw one touchdown pass and ran for a score as Mississippi State held off No. 24 Tulsa 28-26 in a rainy Armed Forces Bowl on Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas.

Emmanuel Forbes had a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown and Lideatrick Griffin, who caught Rogers’ touchdown pass, contributed 138 kickoff return yards to help the Bulldogs (4-7) overcome a sluggish offensive performance that produced just 270 yards.

Zach Smith passed for 347 yards and a touchdown, but threw two crucial interceptions for the Golden Hurricane (6-3).

The contest was marred by an ugly postgame brawl in which punches and kicks were plentiful.

The Tulsa defense held down the Mississippi State offense even without linebacker Zaven Collins, the Nagurski Award winner as the top defensive player in the country who opted out to focus on the NFL Draft.

The Bulldogs led 7-6 at halftime and Rogers scrambled 13 yards for a touchdown that gave Mississippi State a 14-6 lead.

Deneric Prince answered on the next possession with a 13-yard touchdown run for Tulsa.

The Golden Hurricane was poised to take their first lead of the game, but Forbes made his pick-six against Smith for a 21-13 Mississippi State lead at the end of the third quarter.

A botched punt by Mississippi State gave Tulsa a first down at the Bulldogs’ 32-yard line and nine plays later Corey Taylor II ran 5 yards for a touchdown. A two-point pass went incomplete, leaving MSU with a 21-19 lead with 12:30 remaining.

Rogers threw a 13-yard touchdown to Griffin to increase the lead to 28-19 with 8:01 left.

Smith drove the Golden Hurricane to the Bulldogs’ 6, but was intercepted by Tyrus Wheat before directing Tulsa to his 15-yard touchdown pass to Keylon Stokes with 1:23 left. Stokes had nine catches for 117 yards.

Griffin returned the opening kickoff 53 yards to the Tulsa 39-yard line.

Three plays later Jo’Quavious Marks ran 28 yards for a 7-0 Bulldogs lead that lasted through the end of the first quarter.

Zack Long made field goals of 27 and 33 yards to pull the Golden Hurricane within 7-6 at halftime.

–Field Level Media

Dec 5, 2020; Annapolis, Maryland, USA;  Tulsa Golden Hurricane quarterback Zach Smith (11) throws during the first half against the Navy Midshipmen at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

No. 24 Tulsa handles Navy, 19-6

No. 24 Tulsa struggled but still locked up a spot in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game by beating Navy 19-6 on Saturday in Annapolis, Maryland.

The Golden Hurricane (6-1, 6-0 AAC) will host No. 7 Cincinnati (8-0, 6-0 AAC) next Saturday to decide home-field advantage in the title game.

Zach Smith (10 of 25) passed for only 168 yards as the Hurricane managed 296 yards in total offense. But 66 came on a touchdown strike to Josh Johnson late in the third quarter.

The Hurricane’s Zack Long kicked four field goals, including a career-long 48-yarder in the second quarter.

Freshman quarterback Xavier Arline (4 of 8) passed for only 27 yards and rushed for a team-best 60 yards on 27 carries in his second start for Navy, but couldn’t get the Midshipman (3-6, 3-4 AAC) in the end zone.

Both teams were missing key players.

Tulsa was without leading rusher Deneric Prince (356 yards) and lost backup TK Wilkerson in the second quarter, turning the rushing workload over to senior Corey Taylor. Taylor finished with 69 yards on 19 rushes.

Linebacker Zaven Collins, who leads Tulsa in tackles, sacks and interceptions, injured his foot late in the second quarter and did not return. Tackle Jaxon Player, however, had a huge game with 12 tackles and two sacks.

Navy was without slotback CJ Williams and lost slotback Myles Fells to a head injury in the first half.

The Hurricane managed only 117 yards in the first half and settled for a pair of field goals from Long for a 6-3 lead at the break.

The Midshipmen had only 71 yards in total offense the first half with 57 coming on their last possession of the half that culminated in Bijan Nichols’ 34-yard field goal as time ran out.

The Middies then opened the third quarter with a methodical 60-yard drive for Nichols’ second field goal to tie the game at 6-6.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA;  Tulsa Golden Hurricane quarterback Zach Smith (11) runs the ball during the game against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium. TU won the game 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

No. 24 Tulsa seeks berth in AAC title game with win vs. Navy

No. 24 Tulsa will look to lock up its first berth in the American Athletic Conference title game with a win over Navy on Saturday in Annapolis, Md.

The Golden Hurricane (5-1, 5-0 AAC) have won five straight games since losing at then-No. 11 Oklahoma State 16-7 to open the season. Tulsa can also secure a spot in the conference title game with a loss on Saturday, provided it beats No. 7 Cincinnati (8-0, 6-0) next week.

“I feel like we should be in decent shape,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said Tuesday, according to the Tulsa World. “Everybody’s got bruises and banged up a little bit this time of year, but for the most part I think everybody else will be available.”

However, Tulsa has never beaten Navy (3-5, 3-3) in AAC play. The Midshipmen are 5-0 against Tulsa since they joined the league in 2015. The Midshipmen dominated Tulsa last season, as quarterback Malcolm Perry rushed for 218 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries in a 45-17 win. But Perry now plays for the Miami Dolphins, and the Midshipmen haven’t been able to replicate his production under center this year.

Navy has played at least two quarterbacks in six of its eight games, with the only exceptions being against Temple and Houston, when Dalen Morris played every snap.

Morris and Tyger Goslin split time in the team’s last game, combining to complete 4 of 11 passes for 88 yards and an interception. Navy rushed for 233 yards on 52 carries, led by Nelson Smith, who had 29 carries for 142 yards and a touchdown.

Navy and Tulsa were initially scheduled to meet on Nov. 7, but the game was postponed after a coronavirus outbreak swept through the Naval Academy, preventing the Midshipmen from traveling to Oklahoma for the contest.

By moving the game to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, it will allow Navy to have Senior Day for its 26 Midshipmen to play one more home game. Navy, which closes the season at Army on Dec. 12, has won 17 straight games on Senior Day, but No. 18 should be tough to get.

Tulsa is ranked 14th nationally in third-down defense (.319), 14th in defensive touchdowns (two) and 15th in fumble recoveries (seven). The Golden Hurricane relies heavily on All-America candidate linebacker Zaven Collins, who leads the Golden Hurricane with 48 tackles, four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss, and his four interceptions are tied for fourth nationally. Meantime, Kendarin Ray has recorded 46 tackles and broken up five passes, while Bryson Powers has notched two fumble recoveries.

Quarterback Zach Smith, who is coming off a torso injury that sidelined him for most of the team’s last game against Tulane on Nov. 19, has completed 98 of his 162 pass attempts for 1,266 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. Josh Johnson (32 catches, 408 yards, 5 TDs) and Keylon Stokes (31 catches, 446 yards, 2 TDs) are his favorite targets.

Deneric Price, who has 356 yards and a pair of scores on 71 carries, and T.K. Wilkerson (73 carries, 300 yards, four touchdowns) pace the ground game.

“What they do on offense presents everybody with trouble,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “They spread you out a ton and pound the football. If you don’t shore up the run game, they’ll keep pounding you. If you try to get people involved with the run game, they’ll get you on the edges.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA;  Tulsa Golden Hurricane head coach Philip Montgomery during the game against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium. TU won the game 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

No. 24 Tulsa looking for more ways to win vs. Houston

No matter how improbable, No. 24 Tulsa seems capable of penning a weekly, winning script.

The Golden Hurricane (5-1, 5-0 American), who will face the Houston Cougars (3-3, 3-2 American) on Saturday at TDECU Stadium, posted their fourth comeback victory of the season last week, rallying for a wild 30-24 double-overtime victory over Tulane that featured third-string quarterback Davis Brin engineering a 30-point outburst over the fourth quarter and two overtimes and standout linebacker Zaven Collins returning an interception 96 yards to seal the win.

Tulsa rallied from a 21-point deficit to stun SMU the previous week. Pulling off another miraculous comeback after starting quarterback Zach Smith and his backup Seth Boomer were sidelined due to injury represented something beyond an occasional lucky bounce.

“We’re a little bit older team right now and we’ve got some guys that have really stepped up and are making plays,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said. “That’s really the biggest difference. Whether that’s a first-down play, a fourth-down play, a play down in the red zone — it’s just guys continuing to make those efforts and then come up on the right side of it.

“I just think there’s a different level of confidence with this team and a desire to go ahead and get that done, and that’s in all three phases: defensively, offensively and special teams. I think some of it is maturity, some of it is confidence and just guys putting themselves in a position to go make those plays and making it happen.”

Smith is day to day as Tulsa prepares to face the Cougars. Still, what is certain is the Hurricane have been buoyed by past success and are armed with the knowledge that superior performances are a viable goal.

“We’ve still got a lot of good football left in us,” Montgomery said. “I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet, but we’re finding ways to win and that’s the most important thing at this stage.”

COVID-19 protocols prevented the Cougars from playing SMU as scheduled last weekend, resulting in the fourth postponement of the season for Houston, which lost non-conference games against Rice, Baylor and North Texas in September to pandemic-related complications.

The Cougars had their contest against SMU rescheduled for Dec. 5.

“We’re used to it. It ain’t nothing new,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We’re not going through anything that nobody else isn’t going through as well. At this point, it’s second nature. It’s the third time that we’ve paused in the sixth game. We’re doing fine.

“I think they look at what’s going on around the country and say, ‘Well, we’re not alone when it comes to this.’ There were 20 games (postponed or canceled) last week and I think 15 games the previous week.”

The Cougars experienced roster attrition the previous week against USF but managed those losses ably. But when the number of available players diminished last week in advance of the SMU game, particularly at linebacker, Houston was left with no option other than a postponement.

That uncertainty bled into preparations for Tulsa. Holgorsen entered the week with game plans devised for the Golden Hurricane, SMU and Memphis, whom the Cougars are scheduled to play Dec. 12. But if he isn’t granted clearance to conduct the requisite practices in advance of the meeting with Tulsa, Holgorsen is unsure how that game would unfold as scheduled.

“We got the game plan ready, but if you don’t ever practice I don’t know how you can line up to play,” Holgorsen said.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Dallas, Texas, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs quarterback Shane Buechele (7) looks down field against Navy Midshipmen during the first half at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Flores-USA TODAY Sports

Tulsa rallies from 21 points down to stun No. 19 SMU

Zach Smith passed for 325 yards and three touchdowns and Zaven Collins sealed the victory with a late interception as the host Tulsa Golden Hurricane rallied from a three-touchdown deficit to stun the No. 19 SMU Mustangs, 28-24, on Saturday.

Smith found tight end James Palmer for a 4-yard scoring pass with 2:11 remaining to complete the comeback. Collins, a standout linebacker, picked off SMU quarterback Shane Buechele at the 1:28 mark as Tulsa (4-1, 4-0 American) turned in a stifling second-half defensive performance to snatch the win.

SMU amassed just 148 yards following the intermission and had two drives end via punts, two on downs, another on a missed field goal plus the late interception. Buechele, the leading passer in FBS, completed just half of his 36 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown.

Josh Johnson had eight catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns for Tulsa while Keylon Stokes had eight catches for 122 yards, including two key catches on the final scoring drive.

Tulsa essentially handed SMU (7-2, 4-2) a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

Smith had his pass attempt on the third snap of the initial Tulsa possession picked off by SMU cornerback Brandon Crossley, who returned the interception 18 yards for a touchdown at the 10:47 mark of the first.

On the ensuing drive, Smith fumbled a high snap that Mustangs nose tackle Elijah Chatman recovered at the Hurricane 19. Buechele capitalized with a 22-yard scoring strike to Kylen Granson with 8:19 remaining in the period.

Tulsa finally moved from the shadow of its own goal posts, but a 14-play drive stalled inside the SMU 10 and ended with an errant field goal attempt.

SMU followed with its most impressive drive of the game, covering 80 yards in nine plays. Ulysses Bentley capped that march with a 1-yard scoring run, his 11th on the season, setting a school record for a freshman. The Mustangs led 21-0, and while the Hurricane closed to within 24-7 at the break, the missed opportunities buoyed SMU.

The second half was a different story.

–Field Level Media

Oct 3, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; Tulsa Golden Hurricane quarterback Zach Smith (11) prepares to pass during the first quarter of a game against the UCF Knights at Spectrum Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

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

Oct 23, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tulsa Golden Hurricane linebacker Zaven Collins (23) returns an interception for a touchdown in the second half against the South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Tulsa welcomes East Carolina for delayed home debut

In their long-belated 2020 home opener, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane will welcome American Athletic Conference counterpart East Carolina on Friday night.

After losing its sole nonconference game to Oklahoma State on Sept. 19, Tulsa (2-1, 2-0 AAC) has posted back-to-back wins in league play. Most recently, the Golden Hurricane cruised to a 42-13 rout of South Florida on Oct. 23, their third road game to open the pandemic-shortened season.

A scheduled home game against Cincinnati on Oct. 17 was postponed until Dec. 5 due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the Bearcats.

The Golden Hurricane own consecutive wins against East Carolina, in 2016 and 2019.

A victory on Friday would match Tulsa’s longest-ever streak in the series. The current run ended a six-game East Carolina win streak that spanned both programs’ membership in Conference USA and entrance into the AAC, including the Pirates’ win over the Golden Hurricane in the 2008 C-USA championship game.

Dating to its C-USA days, Tulsa has staked its identity to high-scoring offenses. Its initial success in 2020, however, is owed more to great defensive play.

The Golden Hurricane are allowing 18.3 points per game, good for No. 15 in the nation. In their only loss, they held typically explosive Oklahoma State to just 16 points.

Tulsa is the only defense to hold Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard below 100 yards this season.

“Very impressive defensive performance there,” East Carolina coach Mike Houston said Monday of Tulsa’s showing at Oklahoma State. “We’ve got to do a great job with ball security.”

The Pirates (1-3, 1-2) are coming off a 27-23 loss to visiting Navy on Oct. 17. They trailed by two touchdowns entering the fourth quarter but could not complete the comeback.

Houston’s expressed emphasis on ball security comes just days after the Pirates fumbled four times against Navy, two of which were lost.

East Carolina has committed nine turnovers through its first four games and ranks tied for 73rd in FBS teams with a minus-2 turnover margin on the campaign.

In contrast, Tulsa ranks among the country’s best in turnover margin at plus-3. Linebacker Zaven Collins — a 2019 All-AAC honoree — is off to an outstanding start with two interceptions, a forced fumble, 18 solo tackles, four assisted tackles, three sacks and a safety.

Collins made his second pick of the season in the Friday romp at South Florida, and he returned it 38 yards for a touchdown. The Golden Hurricane forced three turnovers and limited the Bulls’ offense to 4.4 yards per play, even though Tulsa was without four defensive starters.

“We knew things like this could happen throughout the season,” Montgomery said. “We told our guys, ‘You’ve got to prepare yourself each and every week because you never know when that opportunity’s going to come, and when you have it, seize it and make the most of it.’”

The abundance of missing starters, a three-week layoff after the marquee matchup with Cincinnati was postponed, and Tulsa being nearly two months into the season before playing its first home game are all part of the challenges amid the pandemic.

East Carolina endured a pause in activities in August before a series of postponements pushed its season opener to Sept. 26.

Houston told reporters days prior to the Navy game that the Pirates were “dealing with some issues” related to COVID-19 testing. Those problems most significantly impacted the offense, with running backs Darius Pinnix Jr. and Demetrius Mauney and starting quarterback Holton Ahlers all out due to protocols.

As a result, freshman quarterback Mason Garcia was thrown into his first career start. He completed 10 of 20 passes for 104 yards.

Ahlers returned to practice this week. He has thrown for 673 yards and six touchdowns on the season with four interceptions.

–Field Level Media

Oct 3, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; Tulsa Golden Hurricane quarterback Zach Smith (11) celebrates as offensive tackle Tyler Smith (56) signals a touchdown during the fourth quarter of a game against the UCF Knights at Spectrum Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

Tulsa returns to action against South Florida

Tulsa scored one of the earliest upsets of the college football season back on Oct. 3 when the Golden Hurricane knocked off then-No. 11 UCF.

Since then, a bye and a postponement have left Tulsa eagerly awaiting a chance to build on its first win over an AP Top 25 team in a decade, and the chance finally comes Friday night in Tampa against South Florida in an American Athletic Conference clash.

“We knew coming into this season that there were going to be some things that are going to be out of our control,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said. “We’ve already been dealing with that throughout the year. I know our guys are just anxious to get back on the field and have an opportunity to compete.”

At first glance, USF (1-4, 0-3 AAC) would appear to be a perfect opponent for Tulsa (1-1, 1-0) to ease back into its conference schedule. The Bulls have lost four in a row and 18 of their past 23 games.

But South Florida is coming off its best offensive game despite losing 39-37 to Temple after failing on a 2-point conversion attempt with 1:03 remaining.

The Golden Hurricane, who lost their only other game against Oklahoma State (another ranked opponent), had their game last week against No. 9 Cincinnati postponed to Dec. 5 due to the Bearcats having several COVID-19 positive tests. Tulsa also had three other nonconference games canceled.

Senior running back Johnny Ford continues to be South Florida’s most dangerous weapon with a team-best 265 yards rushing and three touchdowns as well as 126 yards and a touchdown on 14 receptions. Ford totaled 206 all-purpose yards against Temple, with 84 of those on kickoff returns.

South Florida quarterback Jordan McCloud threw three touchdown passes and completed 15 of 26 passes for 182 yards, but he lost three fumbles with the last of those resulting in the decisive score for Temple. Still, McCloud has a 64.3 completion percentage this season and has a deep core of receivers led by DeVontres Dukes, Latrell Williams and Omarion Dollison.

“We found a way to get ahead and unfortunately made some critical mistakes you cannot make in that type of close ball game and expect to win,” South Florida coach Jeff Scott said after the game.

Defense has been the biggest issue for the Bulls, who are allowing 33.8 points and 205.2 rushing yards per game. Linebacker Antonio Grier Jr., one of their top defenders with 19 solo tackles and three sacks, was ejected for targeting in the third quarter against Temple.

Leading the Golden Hurricane is senior quarterback Zach Smith, who has completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 438 yards and four touchdowns, with two interceptions.

His top two targets have been senior Keylon Stokes (10 catches, 150 yards, 1 TD) and junior Josh Johnson (7 catches, 132 yards, 2 TDs). Tulsa’s running game is powered by sophomores Deneric Prince and T.K. Wilkerson, who have split the workload in the early going.

Junior linebacker Zaven Collins leads Tulsa’s defense with three sacks, an interception and 16 tackles.

–Field Level Media

Oct 3, 2020; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats helmet during the game between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the South Florida Bulls at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

No. 8 Cincinnati’s positive tests postpone Tulsa game

The No. 8-ranked Bearcats’ road game against Tulsa on Saturday has been postponed because of positive COVID-19 cases at Cincinnati, the American Athletic Conference announced Thursday.

The game between the Bearcats (3-0, 1-0) and Golden Hurricane (1-1, 1-0) has been rescheduled for Saturday, Dec. 5 at Tulsa.

“We are disappointed we will be unable to play Tulsa Saturday,” Cincinnati athletic director John Cunningham said in a statement. “We knew this season was going to require a lot of patience and flexibility and disruptions were likely to happen. The health and safety of student-athletes, coaches and staff is always our primary focus and we appreciated the outstanding work and continued dedicated of our medical staff throughout the pandemic.”

Tulsa is no stranger to coronavirus-related postponements. The Golden Hurricane saw last month’s game against Arkansas State postponed because of COVID-19 issues for the Red Wolves.

“I’m disappointed, first, for our football student-athletes and coaches, and obviously for our staff who has prepared so diligently, our campus and the City of Tulsa,” Tulsa athletic director Rick Dickson said in a statement.

“This TU Homecoming game was a great opportunity to showcase our football program, the community and the American Athletic Conference against the nation’s No. 8 team. As the university, the conference and the NCAA have said throughout this pandemic, the health and safety of our student-athletes are at the forefront of all decisions.”

–Field Level Media