When Tulsa's passing game isn't clicking, the Hurricane offense has found it increasingly difficult to put points on the board.
Tulsa’s offense was stifled for most of the game after scoring two early touchdowns, and Navy overcame a 14-point point first half deficit to hand Tulsa a 31-21 defeat on Saturday afternoon in front of a crowd of 21,354 at H.A. Chapman Stadium.
The Golden Hurricane was held to a shocking 17 yards passing on four of eight completions until Navy led 31-14 midway through the fourth quarter, including no official passing attempts in the third quarter. Only after getting the ball back with 8:47 remaining was Tulsa able to boost the final totals to a still meager 12 of 18 for 115 yards.
Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery blames the lack of passing yards on his play calling.
“I probably should have been more aggressive in the third quarter, from a play calling standpoint and trying to soften some of those things up,” Montgomery said. “But we’re right in the thick of it, and I wanted to stay in the thick of it.”
Tulsa (1-4, 0-1 AAC) got out to a surprising 14-0 first quarter lead which was sparked by long runs of 35 and 71 yards by quarterback Chad President, and finished off by 1-yard touchdown runs by D’Angelo Brewer and President.
Navy (4-0, 2-0) was shocked by the ease of Tulsa’s first touchdown drive on the opening series of the game where the Golden Hurricane had a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive which took only 2:38 to accomplish.
But the Midshipmen’s option running offense eventually kicked in, and quarterback Zach Abey scored on a 1-yard run with 4:19 left in the second quarter to narrow the margin to 14-7.
What followed gave all the momentum back to Navy. Getting the ball with only 1:18 left in the half, Navy’s triple-option should have had no chance to go 77 yards for a touchdown. Stunningly, Navy scored in just 49 seconds.
The Mid’s only reasonable chance to cover 77 yards in such a short time was a big play through the air, but Tulsa’s defense was caught off guard, giving up a wide open pass play of 37 yards down to the Tulsa 15-yard-line. From there, it took only two plays to score, as Abey scored on a three-yard run with 29 seconds left in the half.
It was a demoralizing touchdown that tied the game 14-14 going into halftime, giving Navy the momentum it needed to take over the second half.
Equally depressing was a 62-yard touchdown pass from President to Justin Hobbs that was called back due to holding. The score, where Hobbs made a brilliant run down the right sideline, would have put Tulsa up 21-14 after its first series of the second half.
Still, Tulsa hung tough, trailing only 17-14 going into the fourth quarter when Montgomery made a somewhat surprising decision to go for it on fourth-and-one at Tulsa's own 30-yard-line in the first minute of the quarter.
Brewer got the ball, and looked like he had the first down, but fumbled the ball backwards, and Tulsa was stopped. Predictably, Navy scored on the next play, a 23-yard run by Malcolm Perry, and the Midshipmen held what looked like an insurmountable 24-14 lead with 14:45 remaining.
“The fourth down call, going for it right there, still a tight game, hindsight, 20-20, we probably should have punted it." Montgomery said. “We don’t get it, we turn the ball over and then they score the next play, and really, that almost takes us out of the game.”
Montgomery seems to regret the decision, but felt strongly at the time that Tulsa needed a boost that a first down there could have provided.
“I felt like our defense had been on the field a long time and we needed to get into a groove and rolled the dice,” Montgomery said. “Some times it pays off, some times it don’t. But I thought that was probably the turning point in the game."
And he certainly doesn’t blame Brewer for the fumble. Brewer had a tough game, being held to 65 yards on 22 carries.
“I don’t put that on him, I put that on me,” Montgomery said of Brewer‘s fumble. “I put him in that situation.”
The Midshipmen were able to boost that lead to 31-14 with 8:47 left as Navy had worn down Tulsa’s defense after it had done an admirable job for most of the game. The offensive futility of gaining only 229 yards compared to 421 for Navy finally took its toll on the defense. Navy also had a time of possession advantage of 39:38 to 20:22.
Tulsa finally was able to get things going on the next drive after going scoreless for over 37 minutes, with President completing a 4-yard touchdown pass to Chris Minter to close the margin to 31-21.
TU got the ball back with a chance to cut Navy's lead to three points. However, Tulsa was stopped at the Navy 25-yard-line with 3:32 remaining, and the game was effectively over, with Navy running out the rest of the clock.
Not being able to contain Abey, Perry and fullback Chris High finished off the Golden Hurricane, as Abey led all rushers with 185 yards on 36 carries, Perry had 104 yards on 10 carries, and High gained 91 yards 13 carries.
President led Tulsa in rushing with 151 yards on 12 carries. But besides his two long first quarter runs, he was held to 45 yards on 10 carries.
Leading Tulsa in receiving with four catches apiece were Hobbs and Nigel Carter, with 55 and 43 yards, respectively.
Montgomery was down but not out after the game, believing that his squad will turn the corner.
“You gotta believe in what we are doing, and I think our guys do,” Montgomery said. “We’re close. We’ve just got to, like I told the guys, we’ve got to kick that bucket over and get it done.”