Dec 31, 2020; Fort Worth, TX, USA; The Mississippi State Bulldogs and Tulsa Golden Hurricane teams fight after the game at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Postgame brawl mars Tulsa-Mississippi State bowl game

An ugly postgame brawl erupted after the Armed Forces Bowl between No. 24 Tulsa and Mississippi State on Thursday and at least one player was injured.

Tulsa safety Kendarin Ray was helped off the field after reportedly being hit in the head by a helmet. Golden Hurricane coach Philip Montgomery said Ray is being treated for a concussion.

Video of the brawl show players from both sides throwing punches and even a few are seen delivering kicks. Coaching staffs of both teams were powerless to stop it and Fort Worth security and law enforcement personnel were on the field trying to calm the situation.

After Tulsa safety Tieneal Martin threw some punches and fell to the ground, Mississippi State receiver Malik Heath can be seen delivering a kick to Martin’s facemask.

Montgomery says his players were just sticking up for one another.

“The one thing I’ll say is our program, our guys, we’re a team that is going to stand up for each other and we’re going to battle,” Montgomery said. “We’re a team that has battled all year long. We battled again today.”

The teams also had to be separated prior to the game, so tensions were high throughout Mississippi State’s 28-26 victory.

Afterward, Bulldogs coach Mike Leach implied his team wasn’t the cause of the incidents.

“I’m not sure what exactly caused that,” Leach said of the postgame skirmish. “There was something before the game, too. We never had any problem with that the entire season, so you know, I can only guess without seeing the film.

“But prior to this game, we’ve never had any trouble with that.”

Asked how he would address it with this team, Leach said, “Don’t do it anymore. It’s just dumb. There was some of that stuff going back and forth in the course of the game.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA;  Tulsa Golden Hurricane linebacker Zaven Collins (23) gets ready for a play during the game against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium. Tulsa won 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Tulsa LB Collins to skip bowl game, enter NFL draft

Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins announced Thursday he’s heading for the NFL, a day after he won the 2020 Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the best defensive player in college football.

He’s leaving the program immediately and won’t play in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 31 when Tulsa (6-2) faces Mississippi State (3-7) in Fort Worth, Texas.

“In support of my family and my dreams, I would like to announce that I am declaring for the 2021 NFL Draft and I am turning my focus towards preparing for this dream,” he posted to Twitter. “I wish all my teammates the best of luck in the Armed Forces Bowl.”

The 6-foot-4, 260-pound junior registered 53 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles in eight games for the Golden Hurricane. He returned two picks for touchdowns: 38 yards at South Florida (Oct. 23) and 96 yards vs. Tulane (Nov. 19).

–Field Level Media

Oct 23, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tulsa Golden Hurricane running back Corey Taylor II (24) runs the ball in the first half against the South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State brings losing mark into bowl battle with No. 24 Tulsa

At Mississippi State, bowl appearances are an annual occurrence.

No. 24 Tulsa, meanwhile, is set to end a brief postseason hiatus.

The Bulldogs (3-7) will make a school-record 11th consecutive bowl appearance, while the Golden Hurricane (6-2) will play in their first bowl since 2016 when they meet on New Year’s Eve in the Armed Forces Bowl at Fort Worth, Texas.

Tulsa beat Central Michigan 55-10 in the Miami Beach Bowl in 2016. Then the Golden Hurricane went 2-10, 3-9 and 4-8 before having a breakout season this year.

“Throughout this time I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs,” senior running back Corey Taylor II said. “It’s been a blessing to see how a championship team is created, and I believe this Tulsa team is definitely a championship team.”

Tulsa isn’t an official championship team, but it did go 6-0 in American Athletic Conference regular-season play to reach the conference title game against undefeated Cincinnati on Dec. 19. The Bearcats escaped with a 27-24 victory on a field goal as time expired.

“It has been a magical year for this group,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said. “Now we get an opportunity to continue to play one more game.”

The Golden Hurricane had four games canceled because of COVID-19 issues, including a contest at Houston. Tulsa has 62 Texans on its roster who get a chance to play in their home state after all.

“Generally we’re playing at least one game a year down there whether that’s an SMU or a Houston,” Montgomery said. “For the guys (from Texas), it will be special to play this game in Fort Worth.”

Any location would be special for the Bulldogs, who usually have a winning record going into their bowl game.

Mississippi State played the two best games of coach Mike Leach’s first season in the first and last games of the season. The Bulldogs opened with a 44-34 road victory against defending national champion LSU, then lost seven of eight before finishing Dec. 19 with a 51-32 home victory against Missouri.

“We have been competitive all year,” said Leach, who has led 17 of his 19 teams as a head coach to bowl games. “We practice hard and play hard, we just do it incongruently. We just do it in spurts and kind of segmented.”

In between the first and last wins came a victory came against Vanderbilt. None of the Bulldogs’ triumphs came against a team that currently sports a winning record.

Mississippi State gained 446 total yards in the finale, including its first 100-yard rushing game of the season (151).

“It’s been a gradual process,” Leach said. “We’re not there yet, but we took a step (against Missouri).”

The season began with KJ Costello, a graduate transfer from Stanford, passing for a Southeastern Conference-record 623 yards against LSU, but gradually Leach transitioned to a youth movement.

Freshman Will Rogers took over the starting position at midseason, and he has passed for 1,828 yards. The Bulldogs’ true freshmen have combined for 146 receptions, the most among any team in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA;  Tulsa Golden Hurricane linebacker Zaven Collins (23) gets ready for a play during the game against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium. Tulsa won 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Tulsa LB Collins wins Nagurski Trophy

Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins won the 2020 Bronko Nagurski Trophy on Wednesday as the best defensive player in college football.

The 6-foot-4, 260-pound junior registered 53 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles in eight games for the Golden Hurricane. He returned two picks for touchdowns: 38 yards at South Florida (Oct. 23) and 96 yards vs. Tulane (Nov. 19).

Collins, 21, is the second player from the American Athletic Conference to win the honor, joining Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich (2015).

He was selected by the Football Writers Association of America over four other finalists: Coastal Carolina defensive end Tarron Jackson, Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon, Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II.

“I’m honored and blessed to receive the Bronko Nagurski Trophy. It’s awe-inspiring to be mentioned in the same breath as Bronko Nagurski and the many great players who won this award before me,” Collins said in a news release. “I’m so thankful for this honor and for all the people who have put me in this position — my family, coaches, teammates and fan base.”

Tulsa (6-2) is scheduled to face Mississippi State (3-7) in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 31 in Fort Worth, Texas.

–Field Level Media

Dec 19, 2020; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; A general view of Nippert Stadium prior to the game between the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes and the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

No. 9 Cincinnati edges Tulsa, wins AAC on last-second FG

Cole Smith made a 34-yard field goal as time expired to lift No. 9 Cincinnati to a 27-24 victory over visiting Tulsa on Saturday in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

Desmond Ridder, who threw for a touchdown and rushed for another, answered the Golden Hurricane’s tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter by marching the Bearcats down the field. The AAC Offensive Player of the Year induced Tulsa to jump offside on a fourth-and-2 play, allowing Cincinnati to inch closer before Smith drilled the ball between the uprights.

Ridder finished with 269 passing yards and a team-leading 83 rushing yards to help the Bearcats (9-0) avenge a loss to Memphis in the 2019 conference title game.

Alec Pierce had five catches for 146 yards and a touchdown after entering play with just nine receptions for 141 yards and a score in his previous four games.

Jaxon Player blocked a field-goal attempt by Cincinnati to keep it a one-score game with just over six minutes to play. Sam Crawford Jr. reeled in a 54-yard catch and JuanCarlos Santana had a 13-yard score to knot the score at 24 for the Golden Hurricane (6-2).

Tulsa forged a tie at 17 early in the third quarter after Deneric Prince found the end zone from 8 yards out despite the Bearcats having 12 men on the field.

Ridder answered by calling his own number and racing around the right side before extending the ball over the goal line. His 12th rushing touchdown of the season and 22nd career gave Cincinnati a 24-17 lead with 7:14 remaining in the third quarter.

Pierce reeled in a one-handed, 31-yard catch to set up Jerome Ford’s 42-yard run off right tackle to stake the Bearcats to a 7-0 lead midway into the first quarter.

Pierce had a 45-yard catch over the middle later in the quarter to set the stage of Smith’s 25-yard field goal.

Tulsa answered in the second quarter, with Zack Long booting a 43-yard field goal and Corey Taylor II scoring from 10 yards out to tie the game at 10.

Cincinnati responded quickly, with Pierce beating 1-on-1 coverage for a 36-yard touchdown with 3:17 left in the second quarter.

–Field Level Media

Nov 21, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell (middle) and quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) and cornerback Ahmad Gardner (12) lead the team onto the field before the game against the UCF Knights at the Bounce House. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday’s Cincinnati-Tulsa game canceled

Cincinnati’s regular-season finale at Tulsa on Saturday was canceled due to COVID-19 cases within the Bearcats’ program.

The Bearcats (8-0, 6-0) and Golden Hurricane (6-1, 6-0) will meet on Dec. 19 in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

The site of the game will be the home stadium of the team ranked higher in the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night. Cincinnati was No. 7 and Tulsa was No. 24 in last week’s rankings.

Cincinnati hasn’t played since a 36-33 win at UCF on Nov. 21. The Bearcats’ Nov. 28 game at Temple was canceled due to coronavirus concerns at both schools.

“Since returning from Orlando on Nov. 21, 2020, we had an increased number of positives among our student-athletes, coaches and staff,” Cincinnati athletic director John Cunningham said in a statement released Tuesday. “Thankfully, we have had very few symptomatic cases and those who did show symptoms appear to be doing well.”

Anticipating his school will host the AAC title game, Cunningham said Cincinnati had requested a variance from the state of Ohio to allow a limited number of fans in the stadium.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA; Tulsa Golden Hurricane head coach Philip Montgomery pumps his fist during the fourth quarter of the game against 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. 25 Tulsa uses late rally, 2 OTs to edge Tulane

Zaven Collins returned an interception 96 yards for a touchdown in the second overtime Thursday night as No. 25 Tulsa defeated visiting Tulane 30-24 in an American Athletic Conference game.

The Golden Hurricane (5-1, 5-0 AAC) won after erasing a double-digit deficit for the fourth time this season. Third-string quarterback Davis Brin rallied them from a 14-0, fourth-quarter hole by rushing for one touchdown and throwing for two.

The Green Wave (5-5, 2-5) saw their three-game winning streak end.

The teams traded field goals during the first overtime, and on the first possession of the second overtime, Tulane moved to the Tulsa 7-yard line. However, on third-and-goal, Collins intercepted a Michael Pratt pass and ran it all the way back for the sudden victory.

It wasn’t the first moment of dramatics for Tulsa: The game went to overtime when Brin threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to JuanCarlos Santana as time expired in the fourth quarter.

That score came after Tulane had taken a 21-14 lead with 1:38 remaining when Amare Jones’ 71-yard kickoff return set up Pratt’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Tyrick James.

The game was scoreless at halftime and Tulsa missed a scoring opportunity on the first possession of the third quarter. It drove to the Tulane 33 before Deneric Prince lost a fumble.

The Green Wave finally ended the scoreless tie when Stephon Huderson ran 5 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 5:25 left in the third quarter.

On the ensuing possession, the Golden Hurricane went for a fourth-and-1 at their own 29, but T.K. Wilkerson was tackled for a 2-yard loss, giving Tulane a short field.

Two plays later, Pratt (who completed just eight of 17 passes for 76 yards) threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Will Wallace for a 14-0 Tulane lead.

Early in the fourth quarter, Brin ran 18 yards for a touchdown, and with 3:16 remaining, he added a 19-yard touchdown pass to Josh Johnson to tie the score.

Brin completed 18 of 28 for 266 yards after Zach Smith and Seth Boomer were injured.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA; Tulsa Golden Hurricane quarterback Zach Smith (11) throws a pass during the fourth quarter of 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

Ending 10-year ranking drought, No. 25 Tulsa hosts Tulane

Tulsa is used to time off between games this season.

This week, though, the 25th-ranked Golden Hurricane will need to adapt to short preparation time.

Tulsa (4-1, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) will play host to Tulane (5-4, 2-4) on Thursday night in a nationally televised game.

Tulsa has had three weekends in which a game was postponed due to COVID-19 issues. This week, the Golden Hurricane return to action just five days after a 28-24 victory against then-No. 19 SMU.

“It’s going to be a super-quick turnaround,” Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins said, “the fastest I’ve ever been a part of.”

The game against SMU came after a stretch in which the Golden Hurricane played just two games in 41 days. Their scheduled Nov. 7 game against Navy was their most recent postponement due to the pandemic.

“These postponements are crazy,” Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith said. “It (stinks) going and watching film, getting ready for a game and it gets postponed and we have to wait another week to play.”

The sporadic nature of the schedule might have contributed to Tulsa having poor starts in games. The Golden Hurricane had to overcome a 21-point deficit to beat SMU, shutting out the Mustangs in the second half and scoring the winning touchdown with 2:11 to play.

Tulsa overcame an 18-point deficit to defeat UCF and a 14-point deficit to beat East Carolina.

“Do we want to have to do this every week? No,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said, “but our guys know that we can come back. We have to keep getting better and try to get off to a better start.”

The Golden Hurricane, ranked for the first time since 2010, control their fate in the AAC. They will visit Houston and host Cincinnati, currently the No. 7 team in the poll and the only other undefeated team in AAC play.

“We are kind of like a little kid at Christmas right now,” Collins said.

Tulane has shown some resiliency of its own as the season has unfolded. The Green Wave have won three games in a row, all by at least 17 points.

Tulane’s 38-12 victory Saturday against Army, which was ranked No. 25 in the coaches poll at the time, was the Green Wave’s first over a ranked team of any kind in 36 years.

“We’ve had some tough losses,” Tulane defensive end Patrick Johnson said, “and this really gives us momentum to finish the year.”

Now the Green Wave will try to beat a second ranked team in a span of six days.

“To beat a Top 25 team shows us we can compete with pretty much anybody,” Tulane running back Amare Jones said. “When things aren’t going your way, you can’t separate. That’s how things start to go bad, so when we were 2-4, we all just came together.”

The Green Wave’s surge has coincided with the maturation of freshman quarterback Michael Pratt, who has 14 touchdowns and four interceptions in seven starts. He has brought balance to an offense that features the second-most productive running game in the AAC at 243.2 yards per game.

“The fact that we’ve been able to open up the offense has really changed (things),” Pratt said. “We’re getting better and better every week, and we just need to continue to execute.”

Tulane has defeated Tulsa each of the last three seasons, but those Golden Hurricane teams won just two, three and four games.

–Field Level Media

Oct 24, 2020; Dallas, Texas, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs quarterback Shane Buechele (7) looks down field against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the second half at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Flores-USA TODAY Sports

No. 19 SMU visits Tulsa with sense of urgency

The American Athletic Conference standings tell an incomplete story, with COVID-related cancellations and postponements not only muddying the title chase but affecting title contenders.

For No. 19 SMU (7-1, 4-1 AAC), the knee-jerk reaction to its upcoming road game against Tulsa (3-1, 3-0 AAC) on Saturday is that a victory is mandatory. The Mustangs’ lone loss came to front-running Cincinnati, and with the Golden Hurricane sporting an unbeaten conference mark, SMU seemingly can ill-afford a second AAC loss if it maintains designs on a conference crown.

But with Tulsa having had six games affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including two cancellations, it’s impossible to predict how the remainder of the season will unfold, particularly for the Mustangs, who already have eight results in the bank and could spend a handful of idle weeks watching the rest of the competition slug it out for league positioning.

“There are so many games that have yet to be played in our league,” Mustangs coach Sonny Dykes said. “Who knows how all of this stuff is going to play out?

“And then there’s probably, after we wrap up our season, maybe some teams that are playing for two more weeks. There’s just so many unknowns right now so your approach has to be a game-by-game approach. Our guys are aware of what’s going on for sure. We won’t talk about it much. I don’t know if there’ll be any extra emphasis on this but they’ll be aware of the standings.”

The Mustangs are equally reliant upon talent and maturity to navigate the uncertain waters ahead. Senior quarterback Shane Buechele provides a healthy heaping of both, leading FBS in completions (189), attempts (283) and passing yards (2,581), while ranking sixth in passing touchdowns (20) and 20th in passing efficiency (164.6). Buechele has just three interceptions.

The Texas transfer could have a greater profile than he currently sports. If the Mustangs keep winning, their results and the play of their signal-caller will be exceedingly difficult to ignore.

“If anybody does their homework and actually watches the games and they watch Shane play, it’s going to be pretty obvious what kind of football player he is,” Dykes said. “You turn the game on and he’s just productive. He makes good decisions with the ball, he’s accurate, he’s a great leader. He wants to win.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do from the moment he set foot on campus. He’s made everyone around him better and has really been a catalyst for improving our program. I think he deserves national attention.”

Tulsa, off to its best conference start in its seven years in the AAC, will play its first game since a 34-30 win over East Carolina on Oct. 30. That contest represented the latest home opener in program history, and the Hurricane had three prior home games either canceled or postponed.

What amounts to an unbalanced schedule seems to put the Hurricane at a disadvantage. But given the circumstances of this unusual season, Tulsa isn’t complaining.

“For us, we’re just excited for getting on the field again,” Hurricane coach Philip Montgomery said. “They’ve played eight games, we’ve played four, so obviously it’s a different scenario for the two of us as we look at our seasons and where we’re at and where we’re wanting to be.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Dallas, Texas, USA; Navy Midshipmen running back Chance Warren (13) runs the ball against Southern Methodist Mustangs during the second half at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Flores-USA TODAY Sports

Navy-Tulsa game off after outbreak among Midshipmen

The American Athletic Conference called off this weekend’s game between Navy and Tulsa after positive tests for COVID-19 among Midshipmen players.

The AAC will look at rescheduling the game between the Golden Hurricane (3-1) and Navy (3-4), scheduled to be played in Annapolis, Md.

Navy has paused all football activities. The Capital Gazette reported that Navy has a “minimal” amount of actual cases but that contact tracing would rule out many more players.

“We are disappointed not to face Tulsa this weekend. However, protocols and guidelines are very comprehensive both at the Naval Academy and within the American Athletic Conference,” Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said in a statement.

“There are a number of medical personnel that have reviewed all the related issues and, in the end, an administrative decision has been made that clearly reflects the safety and welfare of all involved with both institutions.”

Navy reported zero positive cases last week ahead of its game against SMU. However, Monday’s round of testing turned up positives and resulted in as many as 20 players being put into quarantine, the newspaper reported.

The game has not been canceled, but Navy and Tulsa do not have any mutual open dates.

Navy is scheduled to face Memphis on Nov. 14. Tulsa is set to host SMU that day.

–Field Level Media