Until the coin toss, University of Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery might doubt whether Friday night’s game at South Florida will be played.
And who could blame him? In the past month, Montgomery has seen his team’s games canceled or postponed by the opponent on the Wednesday and Thursday before they were scheduled to occur.
“Leading up to it (the possibility of it not happening is) kind of in the back of your mind, but you don’t really want to talk about it that much,” Montgomery said. “You want to focus on your opponent and not worry about the what-ifs because you can lose focus on what you want to do.”
Twenty days removed from a confidence-boosting victory at No. 11 UCF, the Hurricane is set to play its third game of the season, tangling with a struggling Bulls team that has already played five games, including four in consecutive weeks.
“They’re fixing to be six games into it and they’ve probably got a pretty good feel for their personnel and where they’re at and continuing to grow and develop each week,” Montgomery said. “For us, we’re still kind of learning where we are and what we’re doing from the standpoint of, it’s a new team and you’ve played only two games with them.”
Because of the pandemic, there’s no such thing as fair in college football this season. TU has been the victim of other teams’ COVID-19 situations, creating uneven footing with remaining opponents in terms of the number of games.
“I think this is what we signed up for, knowing the circumstances,” TU cornerback Allie Green IV said. “They’ve had five games, but we haven’t stopped practicing.”
TU has never beaten USF in three attempts as members of the American Athletic Conference, stumbling by single digits to ranked teams in the past two meetings. This year’s version of the Bulls is young, with 19 first-time starters through five games.
Among the few veterans under first-year coach Jeff Scott is running back and kick returner Johnny Ford, who ranks 20th nationally in all-purpose yards and leads the American in kickoff yardage.
“He’s difficult to tackle,” Montgomery said. “He’s not a big running back, but he is electric with the ball in his hands. They’ve done a good job as far as using him in the passing game and creating some different matchups with him. We’ve got to do a good job of being assignment sound.”
The USF defense is led by a familiar face: former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, who is the most seasoned assistant on an otherwise exceptionally young coaching staff.
“I’ve gone against Glenn Spencer a ton of different times and I know how fantastic he is as a defensive coordinator,” Montgomery said. “I think they’re learning their team and continuing to grow. That’s what you can see on tape.”
The challenge for the Hurricane offense will be to get into an early rhythm after the lengthy layoff. In the previous outings against OSU and UCF, that was a significant issue in the first quarter.
“We do need to get off to a much better start,” Montgomery said. “That has been a point of emphasis during this break or lapse, whatever you want to call this time period that we’ve been in.”