TAMPA, Fla. — After three seasons in the basement of the American Athletic Conference, the University of Tulsa appears to have broken through.
For the first time since 2012, the Hurricane is off to a 2-0 start in league play. The latest win occurred Friday night at South Florida, which TU dominated completely on its way to a 42-13 outcome.
“This is what we’ve been talking about for three weeks,” coach Philip Montgomery said. “Our next step was really to come out and play a full 60-minute game, get off to a good start and truly feel like you controlled the game from start to finish.”
Twenty days removed from an upset against Central Florida, TU showed no rust on offense and overcame the absence of four defensive starters: safeties Cristian Williams and TieNeal Martin, who didn’t make the trip for undisclosed reasons; end Cullen Wick, who was on the sideline in street clothes; and linebacker Treyvon Reeves, who was ejected in the first half on a questionable targeting call.
After opening the game with a three-and-out series from its defense, the Hurricane (2-1, 2-0) heated up in a hurry with a 65-second, 65-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Zach Smith to JuanCarlos Santana.
Akayleb Evans then forced a fumble that was recovered by Lamar Mullins, who made the first start of his career. On the ensuing drive, Smith had an apparent miscommunication with his receivers and threw an interception that led to a Bulls field goal.
Last-place USF (1-5, 0-5) delivered one of its few impressive plays on a punt return by KJ Sails that went for 60 yards, setting up another field goal.
While the Bulls were trying every quarterback on their roster, Smith was efficient, completing 16 of 24 passes for 233 yards. With the offensive line having an outstanding night, running backs Corey Taylor II and Deneric Prince scored the first of their two touchdowns in the second quarter, giving TU a 21-6 halftime advantage.
After USF got back into the game with a touchdown drive on its first possession of the second half, the Hurricane quickly responded. Prince, a Texas A&M transfer who achieved his first 100-yard outing, sidestepped a defender on his way to the end zone for an electric 62-yard run.
Zaven Collins, who forced a red-zone fumble in the second quarter, scored on a 38-yard interception return in the third quarter as part of another stellar performance that included six tackles.
A long pass from Smith to Sam Crawford Jr. set up a diving touchdown from Taylor late in the third quarter, and TU moved to its reserves including quarterbacks Seth Boomer and Davis Brin in the fourth quarter amid the significant lead.
Defeating USF for the first time in four tries and winning a second game in a row for the first time since 2016, the Hurricane finished with eight tackles for lost yardage and totaled three takeaways.
“Two years ago, (USF) was a top-25 team,” Montgomery said. “You know when you step in between the white lines anything can happen. I was just proud of the way our guys stayed together, stayed focused and came out and played a really sound game.”
Philip Montgomery has a squad that seems outfitted for contention in the American, and it all starts with the Tulsa run game.
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