With two weeks until the season opener, the clock is ticking for the University of Tulsa football team.
A nine-day disruption to fall camp caused by positive COVID-19 tests set the Hurricane back in its preparation for Sept. 12 opponent Oklahoma State. Although back to full strength, TU still has significant ground to make up.
“We’re behind,” coach Philip Montgomery said. “We still have a little installation left to get in and from an in-shape standpoint we have to do a better job. We still have a couple weeks left and we’ll take advantage of that.
“It’s not like they’re not in shape, but game shape is different. You have quick changes, long drives and short drives that you have to react to, and the intensity level always picks up in game situations.”
The Hurricane took a step in the right direction Saturday with its first full-pads scrimmage, which lasted close to 75 minutes at H.A. Chapman Stadium and provided a barometer for where the team is heading into the final stretch of the preseason.
“We saw a lot of good things and a lot of things we have to work on,” Montgomery said. “There’s a lot of thinking going on right now. … I thought the guys did a good job of being assignment sound and understanding down-and-distance. We just need to get into the flow of what games and scrimmages feel like. It’s just so much different than just a normal practice.”
For roughly 30 plays, the first-team offense and defense went head to head. Quarterback Zach Smith concluded drives with touchdown passes to JuanCarlos Santana, Josh Johnson and Sam Crawford Jr., and the defense forced a pair of turnovers.
“It was good to see those guys work in those situations against each other — finishing some drives, stopping some drives and creating some turnovers,” Montgomery said. “On offense, we have to still work on our timing, but I thought our receivers and quarterbacks did a good job and the offensive line protected well.
“On defense, we had a lot of new faces out there. I thought those guys were very aggressive. They had a couple of good picks, some good third-down stops, knockdowns and breakups.”
With star running backs Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor II sitting out as a precaution, the offense was able to focus on the passing game. Smith and backup Seth Boomer connected with a dozen receivers, showcasing the depth at the position.
“We’re going to play more guys this year than what we’ve done in the past because we have a little bit more depth and we’ve moved some guys around.” Montgomery said. “We’ve got guys with different skill sets and you want to try to take advantage of that.”
In addition to the receivers who scored touchdowns, TU had big catches Saturday from Keylon Stokes, Cannon Montgomery and Malik Rodgers. Tight ends James Palmer and Jacob Kainer also were involved.
“We have a lot of really talented guys out there on the edge at receiver,” Smith said. “I feel like anyone is going to be open on any given play, so I’ve got to really work the whole field because you never know who’s going to pop. They’re working really hard in practice, and today in the scrimmage it showed.”
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