TULSA — There was a definitive edge to the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Saturday.
Gut-punched in by a last-second loss at Houston, TU came hard and fast and clobbered Tulane 50-27 before a homecoming crowd of 22,349.
“No disrespect to anybody, but I’m almost kind of tired of talking about Houston,” said TU wideout Josh Atkinson. “It was last week. We had a game today — that we played well. So, it is what it is.”
Tulsa improved to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in American Athletic Conference play, while Tulane fell to 3-4 and 0-3.
Also on a day the program was honoring fallen former All-American defensive end Dennis Byrd, Tulsa’s greatest tribute was from a defense that looked motivated, focused and intense and harassed Tulane quarterbacks, punished Green Wave running backs and intimidated Tulane receivers.
Byrd would have been proud.
“I told our guys in the locker room he would. I hope he would,” coach Philip Montgomery said. “I hope they played the way he would want the game to be played.
“Dennis Byrd … was a man that stood for everything we want our program to stand for. A guy that was relentless in his fight to overcome the odds, and did everything in his power and tried to make everybody around him better.
“Just the way he handled life and the way he handled situations, he’s somebody that’s gonna be truly missed in our football program.”
The Golden Hurricane offensive line also played with an attitude, clearing huge gaps for TU runners, providing safe haven for QB Dane Evans and frequently mauling the Tulane defense for positive yards.
The whole day seemed to have roots in the Golden Hurricane’s performance in defeat.
“I thought,” said coach Philip Montgomery, “we played with a lot of fervor last week.”
Tulsa was driving in a tie game in the final minutes last week against the No. 13-ranked Cougars when Evans was stripped and fumbled. Houston returned it for a touchdown with less than 90 seconds to play.
Still, Evans rallied the Golden Hurricane offense to the UH goal line, where his final pass was caught inches short of the tying touchdown.
“What coach Monty always says is, 24-hour rule,” Evans said. “Good win or loss, doesn’t matter.”
Evans said players met informally on Monday and discussed the Houston loss one more time before putting it behind them.
“We talked about it for maybe five minutes on Monday and said, ‘Well, let’s go use it and show the country what we really can do,’ “ Evans said. “Because we know what we did and we know what we’re capable of. We just wanted to get back out and get the taste out of our mouth and just execute in all phases offensively like I thought we did pretty well tonight.”
Tulsa amassed 566 yards total offense and 29 first downs. The TU defense held Tulane to 113 yards in the first half.
After TU bolted to a 38-7 third quarter lead, the Green Wave staged a brief rally to get within 38-20, but Tulsa scissored any momentum when McKinley Whitfield returned a 2-point pass 105 yards for a 2-pointer the other way, and James Flanders’ 30-yard, tackle-breaking touchdown run stretched it back to 47-20.
“Our guys know how to play a full 60 minutes,” Montgomery said. “We had a little lack of focus there in the second half, but that’s part of growing as football team and learning how to take care of things as you get leads. …We’re trying to take ourselves to another level and we gotta keep pressing that.”
Evans completed 14-of-23 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns. He was not intercepted and was sacked once, though he also lost a second-half fumble.
Flanders ran 190 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries while AAC leading rusher D’Angelo Brewer returned from injury with 18 carries for 61 yards. Backup Rowdy Simon ran nine times for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Three Tulsa receivers caught touchdown passes. Josh Atkinson led the way with seven catches for 149 yards (including a 49-yard contested catch-and-run TD), Keevan Lucas caught three for 67 (including a diving TD in the back of the end zone on the opening drive) and Brewer caught a 5-yard score.
Next week Tulsa travels to Memphis, and the attitude figures to be the same there as it was at Chapman Stadium:
“Last week was last week,” Atkinson said. “We forgot about it. We’re moving on.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.