When one thinks of offense in the state of Oklahoma both the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State come to mind. One name that doesn’t is Tulsa. The often forgotten third division I football program in the state they’ve had their fair share of offensive juggernauts as well. Paul Smith, David Johnson, G.J. Kinne, Cody Green, and Dane Evans all put up gaudy numbers in the blue and gold. Conference championships were won. Coaches such as Todd Graham and Steve Kragthorpe moved on to bigger jobs. Yet lately the only time one hears about Tulsa is after another close loss. Keyword loss. Since 2016 they have gone a combined 7-25. What happened? Well, today I attempt to answer that question.
1. Bad Breaks
I haven’t seen a team suffer as many bad breaks in close games since Charlie Weis’s first year at Kansas in 2012. During that season the Jayhawks lost five games by seven points or less. They went 1-11. A total of 23 points was the difference between 1-11 and a 6-6 bowl season. How does that relate to present-day Tulsa? Since Evans and Co. put the finishing touches on a 52-10 Bahamas Bowl win over future Dallas Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush and Central Michigan Tulsa has lost 11 games by seven points or less. As mentioned earlier Tulsa is 7-25 since that game. A total of 55 points is the difference between 7-25 and 18-14. Sure you could chalk up 2017 to an inexperienced team but what about 2018? Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Former quarterback Luke Skipper, who medically retired this past spring due to injuries, had a penchant for fumbling and throwing to the wrong colored jersey at the wrong time. This season? Look no further then their 9-of-17 make to miss field goal ratio. In a triple-overtime classic against SMU three missed field goals cost them their biggest win in years. Last week the offense executed a near-perfect late-game drive against Memphis on homecoming to set up kicker Jacob Rainey for what should’ve been a chip shot 29-yard game-winning field goal. Yet he hooked it wide left. Sad part? It was one of three he missed on the day. When it rains it pours I guess and in the case of the Golden Hurricanes, it rains bad luck.
2. Recruiting Misses
Sure every team has them but some can’t afford them. OU and OSU can rebound quicker then Tulsa. Don’t believe me? Remember Trevor Knight? The Sugar Bowl wonder who flammed out and ended his career at Texas A&M. The once thought quarterback of the future was quickly replaced by budding star Baker Mayfield. At OSU the lackluster duo of Clint Shelf and JW Walsh (admirably my favorite OSU player with no rhyme or reason) was swiftly replaced by Wes Lunt, who was hurt and then replaced by Mason Rudolph. While Tulsa fans had to be less than impressed with the start to Evans career he came into his own and became one of the best signal-callers in program history. His successor looked to be maybe, at least from a talent point, the best ever. Meet Chad President. Great last name. Great high school quarterback. The number nine dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2015 the four-star Temple, Texas native followed head coach Philip Montgomery from Baylor where he was committed to Tulsa. Anybody who saw his highlights couldn’t help but draw comparisons to Baylor great Robert Griffin III. He played sparingly as a true freshman appearing in six games even registering a catch. After a season-ending injury in the 2016 season opener led to a medical redshirt he earned the starting job in 2017 starting the first six games while playing in all 12. To most, his first start on the road against OSU honestly was a good sign. A stat line of 18-of-35 passing for 178 yards along with 69 yards on the ground with minimal blocking and no turnovers was a great start. While he would continue to be a force on the ground finishing third on the team with 429 yards and nine touchdowns his passing numbers left a lot to be desired. He threw for a paltry three touchdowns to two interceptions on 52.9 completion percentage with 921 yards leading Skipper to make the last six starts. Making matters worse President would injure his knee in the season finale that would eventually end his career as he also medically retired in the spring. His final stat line? Played in 19 games making seven starts with career totals of 84-of-162 for 930 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Ran for 505 yards and nine touchdowns on 89 carries for an average of 5.7 yards. Oh, what could’ve been.
3. Where are the Points?
In 2016 Tulsa’s offense averaged an impressive 42.5 points per game, seventh nationally, along with an equally impressive 527.7 yards per game. In 2017, a year in which they went 2-10, there was an expected step back but nobody imagined a Steven Adams sized step. The numbers dipped to 29.3 ppg, 54th nationally, and 420.3 ypg. That’s a near two-touchdown (13.2 to be exact) drop in points and 107.4 drop-in yardages. Still given Montgomery’s track record at Baylor and at Tulsa improving the points per game in each of his two seasons taking them from 24.7 ppg (94th nationally) and 412.5 ypg the season before he took over to 37.2 ppg (21st nationally) and 507.4 ypg in his first season. That’s a near two-touchdown jump and near 100-yard improvement. Consequently the win total climbed from 2-10 to 6-7 with a bowl birth. In 2016 the numbers improved again as the points rose so did the wins. In 2018 the expectation was the offense would back on track. Except there was a small problem. It didn’t. As a matter of fact, it veered more of course than ever before under Montgomery. They managed just 24.1 ppg (103rd nationally) and 378.9 ypg a five-point drop in points and 33 loss in yards. The result? Another losing season. Finally, that brings us to this season where once again the points have dropped again this time to 24.2 ppg (97th nationally) while the yards have increased to 404.5. As history shows, I think you know how this story will end.
4. Paper Thin Defense
It’s been a knock on both OU and OSU as of late and it’s no exception at Tulsa either. I’ll cut Montgomery some slack as an offensive-minded coach and you some reading by posting the year by year numbers.
2014 (year before Montgomery)- 39.2 ppg (122nd nationally), 486.8 ypg. Record: 2-10
2015 (year one)- 39.8 ppg (121st nationally), 536.6 ypg. Record: 6-7
2016- 29.8 ppg (77th nationally), 426.5 ypg. Record: 10-3
2017- 37.5 ppg (121st nationally), 528.9 ypg. Record: 2-10
2018- 29.6 ppg (80th nationally), 408.9 ypg. Record: 3-9
2019 (in progress)- 32.4 ppg (105th nationally), 399 ypg. Record: 2-6
To me, the numbers show a couple of things. First 2016 was more of a complete team then I thought. Secondly, the past two seasons show that the much-maligned defense has been the strength of the team. Not a good sign given the best finish is still towards the bottom.
When one thinks of offense in the state of Oklahoma both the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State come to mind. One name that doesn’t is Tulsa. The often forgotten third division I football program in the state they’ve had their fair share of offensive juggernauts as well. Paul Smith, David Johnson, G.J. Kinne, Cody Green, and Dane Evans all put up gaudy numbers in the blue and gold. Conference championships were won. Coaches such as Todd Graham and Steve Kragthorpe moved on to bigger jobs. Yet lately the only time one hears about Tulsa is after another close loss. Keyword loss. Since 2016 they have gone a combined 7-25. What happened? Well, today I hope answered that question.