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Tulsa notebook: TU defense plays stout against potent Jacksonville State offense

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TU defense plays stout against potent Jacksonville State offense

With Rich Rodriguez as its coach, it was no surprise that Jacksonville State entered the contest with a 3-0 record and boasting some impressive offensive numbers, even if they were accomplished against fellow FCS schools.

The former West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona coach had the Gamecocks averaging 37 points and 456 yards of total offense coming into the contest, as well as 277 yards per game rushing, but Tulsa handled them quite well throughout the course of a dominating 54-17 victory Saturday night.

Overall, TU limited Jacksonville State (which is located in Jacksonville, Alabama, not Florida) to 208 yards rushing, just 87 yards passing and 295 total, while surrendering just 17 points, with both touchdowns coming in the second half after the game was already decided. The Golden Hurricane led 40-3 at halftime.

“I thought our defense played extremely well. This is a tough offense to go against,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said. “Rich Rodriguez has been one of those innovative minds offensively throughout his coaching career, so whether you go all the way back to West Virginia, he gives you a lot of different formations, a lot of motions, a lot of misdirection to it. I thought our guys did a really nice job of keeping their eyes in the right spot, playing really sound defensively, trusting the guy beside them, and just making it difficult for them to do some of the tempo things they wanted to do.”

And the way Tulsa shut down the Jacksonville State passing game, including linebacker Justin Wright picking up an interception early in the second quarter with Tulsa leading 12-0, was particularly noteworthy. The fact that the Golden Hurricane had seen its two previous opponents thrive through the air made the performance even more welcome.

Wyoming’s Andrew Peasley competed 20-of-30 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener, while Northern Illinois’ Rocky Lombardi threw for 259 yards and three touchdowns on 18-of-31 passing the next week. So being able to hold the combination of Aaron McLaughlin and Zion Webb (the Gamecocks switched back and forth throughout the night) to a combined 6-for-15 for 79 yards before they put in the third-stringer at the end, was impressive.

They also got their first four sacks of the season, starting with defensive tackle Joseph Anderson and Wright in the first quarter, before adding two more in the second half.

“We talked about it all week, of getting quarterback pressure,” Wright said. “We knew (Webb) was a running quarterback. They like to run the ball. A lot of eye candy stuff that gets you moving. And the D-line had one job this week, and that's to get back to the quarterback. Sacks are huge. You know, the best coverage is a rush, a defensive line getting the pass coverage pretty much. Those are huge for our defensive line, for our linebackers.”

Backups get a chance to display talents

After Davis Brin’s 46-yard touchdown pass to Keylon Stokes gave Tulsa a 47-10 lead with 6:05 left in the third quarter, the main starters came out of the game for the Golden Hurricane.

On the next offensive series, Braylon Braxton took over at quarterback, a slew of backup receivers were in place, and the depth running backs were getting the carries. In the fourth quarter, just about everyone switched out, including the offensive line and the defense, and even a number of third-stringers got in later in the fourth quarter.

Braxton was in for three possessions and did pretty well, completing 4-of-5 passes for 26 yards, including his first career touchdown pass, an 11-yard toss to Marquis Shoulders, who also had his first career TD on the play, early in the fourth quarter.

Braxton also rushed three times for 29 yards. Shoulders, seeing his first-ever action on offense, made three catches for 23 yards. Backup running back Bill Jackson, who had three rushes for six yards when the starters were still in, ended up with a team-high 59 yards on nine carries.

“I was really proud of the way they stepped up,” Brin said of the backups. “Experience is huge. When I was in that position, every chance being on the field I wanted to take advantage of and they did that tonight, so I’m really proud of the young guys.”

Then, for the final TU possession, third-string quarterback Roman Fuller came in, rushing once for one yard and completing one pass for seven yards to Shoulders.

Montgomery knows that getting those players some real game action can only help out later in the season, just in case one of them has to go in during a more pressure-packed scenario.

“It was good to get a lot of guys playing,” Montgomery said. “Getting that experience in games is so different than it is in practice. And so I think it allows you to continue to build your depth. It's a long season. You never know what's going to happen. So to be able to have an opportunity to get guys in, give them the chance to get that experience so that when the next opportunity comes up, they're more prepared, they're ready.”

More offensive line adjustments

The offensive line starters were shuffled a bit again, for the third consecutive game. Dillon Wade started at left tackle for the third straight contest. At left guard, replacing Chester Baah, it was Darrell Simpson, who started the opener at right guard but didn’t see much action last week. Will Farniok was at center for the third straight game (until he was injured late in the third quarter). Tai Marks started at right guard after replacing Simpson there in the Northern Illinois game, and Jaden Muskrat was at right tackle for the second straight game (after Kai-Leon Herbert was injured in the opener).

Later in the game, when the reserves entered the contest, the O-Line consisted of Walter Young Bear at left tackle, Chris Akporoghene at left guard, Gabe Cantu at center, Jeremy Jones at right guard and Tanyon Zachary at right tackle.

— John Tranchina, Tulsa World

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