It was a golden opportunity for the Golden Hurricane. As three touchdown underdogs at Oklahoma State, Tulsa trailed by three with under 10 minutes remaining with sights set on launching the new decade with a statement upstate.
But the same mistakes that plagued Tulsa in its 4-8 campaign in 2019 reiterated in the team’s 16-7 loss to the No. 11 Cowboys. After appearing to score the go-ahead touchdown on a rollout pass from inside the 5-yard line, a false start penalty negated the score. One play later, Tulsa shanked a 26-yard field goal and allowed Oklahoma State to maintain a 10-7 lead.
Not only did the yellow flags haunt Tulsa, the most penalized team in college football from a year ago —the same team which connected on 62.5 percent of fields goals in 2019 couldn’t sink a chip shot to tie the score at 10.
Tulsa was penalized 15 times for 120 yards, preventing the Golden Hurricane from gaining a semblance of momentum offensively. They nearly matched Oklahoma State in total yardage and won the turnover battle, but converting 0/12 third down attempts and committing countless penalties ruined their upset bid. Still, the Golden Hurricane clung to a 7-3 lead until the first play of the fourth quarter due to sharp play by the defense.
In a game where the offenses were expected to reign supreme, the defenses took over. Both teams only scored one touchdown apiece and were held below 300 yards. Tulsa’s lone points of the afternoon occurred within two minutes of halftime when Zach Smith completed a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Josh Johnson. Facing an adept Oklahoma State secondary, Smith finished with 164 passing yards on 28 attempts. The rushing game — without starting halfback Shamari Brooks who tore an ACL in practice this week — was also held in check with 111 total yards.
Oklahoma State’s offense struggled mightily after starting quarterback Spencer Sanders limped to the locker room in the first quarter with a lower body injury. Tulsa’s defense shut down the Cowboys when backup Ethan Bullock checked in. The Golden Hurricane sacked and pressured Bullock on many occasions and recorded their only interception of the game during his stint under center.
Oklahoma State responded by inserting third-string quarterback Shane Illingworth into the game in the late third quarter. Illingworth proved he was ready to lead his team to victory in his collegiate debut. The freshman’s first throw was a 24-yard connection to former All-American wide receiver Tylan Wallace who contributed 94 yards in his first game back from an ACL tear. Four plays later, he fired a 36-yard strike to Wallace down the sideline to set up a 3-yard rushing touchdown by Chuba Hubbard.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of Tulsa in its opener was shutting down the reigning FBS leading rusher. Hubbard registered 256 yards on the Golden Hurricane defense last September but only managed 93 yards on 27 carries. With only four returning starters, Tulsa’s defense had several notable standouts Saturday. Star outside linebacker Zaven Collins frequently won the battles in the trenches against the Oklahoma State offensive line as the team’s returning leader in sacks. Cornerback Allie Green IV, a 6’3” senior tasked with defending the talented Wallace, was highly physical in his one-on-one coverage. Green prevented a Cowboys score in the third quarter by intercepting his first career pass in Tulsa territory — the play which forced Mike Gundy to switch quarterbacks.
Even after Oklahoma State’s go-ahead score, Tulsa’s defense provided the team an opportunity for an upset bid. Down 13-7 with 4:25 left, only 75 yards separated Tulsa from taking down the No. 11 team in the country. But false start and holding penalties quickly turned a 2nd and 2 into a 2nd and 17. A delay of game pushed the Golden Hurricane back even farther, and they were forced to go for 4th and 24 on their own 11 due to the lack of timeouts remaining.
Tulsa must cut mistakes including penalty yardage, kicking errors, and poor clock management going forward to compete in a deep American Conference. Even with only seven points to show, Golden Hurricane proved to be a talented team which can hang with the nation’s elite in their near-upset bid. Tulsa earns an opportunity to take down a team which already had success against the Big 12 in non-conference play. The Golden Hurricane will travel to Jonesboro, AR for a matchup with 1-1 Arkansas State next Saturday.