At the 8½-minute mark of the third period, the South Florida Bulls got a touchdown. The University Tulsa lead was only 21-13.
In my mind — and perhaps in Philip Montgomery’s — there were flashbacks to the 2014 meeting of the Golden Hurricane and Bulls (when TU blew a 20-point, third-quarter lead and lost 38-30) and the 2018 game (during which TU squandered a 14-point, fourth-quarter cushion and lost 25-24).
Tulsa dominated Friday night’s first half, and yet the halftime difference was only 15 points. After USF seemed to have stolen the momentum, Tulsa took it back and wound up with a drama-free statement victory.
The Golden Hurricane arrived in Tampa, Florida, as a 12-point favorite and departed as a 29-point winner.
In one of the cleaner performances of Montgomery’s six-year run as the head coach, Tulsa’s 42-13 American Athletic Conference triumph was defined by a 462-305 advantage in total yards and only five penalties.
You might remember that penalties were a horrible TU problem from the start of the 2019 season and extending through this year’s 15-penalty opener at Oklahoma State. When Montgomery scanned the TU-USF stat sheet, he might have been happier with the penalty result than with any other.
At 2-1 overall, TU has a winning record in October for the first time since 2016. Also, TU has its first 2-0 conference start since 2012.
Except for one minute in the third quarter, after USF had drawn to within 21-13, there was a refreshing lack of stress for Hurricane coaches and players who so often in 2017-19 couldn’t hold leads and would wind up with heartbreaking losses.
The 2020 Hurricane’s personality is shaped mostly by a strong defense and a strong run game, and Tulsa used those elements very well against the Bulls.
After South Florida got its third-quarter TD, the TU response was a flurry of three scores: a 62-yard dash by Deneric Prince, a 38-yard interception by linebacker star Zaven Collins and a 1-yard surge by Corey Taylor II.
During a span of five minutes and five seconds, the Tulsa advantage had grown from 21-13 to 42-13.
The truth is, this one happened as it should have happened. The Hurricane is a lot better than USF (now with 18 losses in its past 23 games). Montgomery has a squad that seems outfitted for contention in the American, and it all starts with the Tulsa run game.
As TU’s play-caller, Montgomery likes to spread the field and fire the football down the field. If anything, though, he seems to enjoy the ground game even more. To control games with his offensive line. To frustrate and fatigue opposing defenses with play after play of a punching run game.
On Oct. 3, when Tulsa rallied from an 18-point deficit and won 34-26 at UCF, the Hurricane running backs had 41 carries for 187 yards. Any patient coach is happy with 4.6 yards per attempt. A 4.6 average leads to sustained drives and points.
Montgomery qualified as incredibly patient during the 2016 Hurricane’s amazing, come-from-behind victory at Fresno State. After trailing 31-0 at the nine-minute mark of the second quarter, Tulsa ran the football 53 times. Overall, at the end of a 48-41, double-overtime Hurricane triumph, there were 68 run plays (for 344 yards) against 32 passes.
On Friday night, while Zach Smith was an efficient 17-of-25 passing for 235 yards, the Hurricane hammered South Florida with a 37-attempt, 227-yard run game.
That physical offensive approach was paired with beautifully violent tackling by the Tulsa defense. South Florida never had a chance.
After so many disruptions related to COVID-19, Tulsa by late October has played only three times. Next week, another Friday game is scheduled. East Carolina is expected to visit for TU’s first home date.
Also expected that night: more of the Montgomery run game and a punishing Hurricane defense that limited USF to a 2-of-15 success rate on third-down plays.
Lousy tackling has been common in college football this season, but the guilty parties aren’t wearing Tulsa uniforms. Montgomery has a complete and dangerous team.
View from the sidelines: Tulsa at USF