TULSA — During his 27 ½-minute press conference on Monday, Texas coach Tom Herman didn’t get one question about this week’s opponent.
In UT’s weekly eight-page package of pregame notes, there is but one paragraph about the team coming into Austin on Saturday night.
“Tulsa comes into the game following a 38-27 victory over Central Arkansas at home in week one. The Golden Hurricane finished 2-10 in 2017.”
And that’s just the way Tulsa wants it.
Tulsa players, coaches and certainly fans can draw from recent ventures into hostile territory and coming away with memorable performances.
- On Oct. 30, 2010, TU strutted into South Bend and took down Notre Dame 28-27.
- Later that same day, when Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery was offensive coordinator at Baylor, the Bears shocked Texas 30-22 in Austin, their first-ever Big 12 win over the Longhorns.
- Two weeks later, when TU defensive coordinator Bill Young was at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys also went into Darrell K. Royal-Memorial Stadium and pulled out a 33-16 victory. Young’s OSU squad also beat Texas 38-26 in Austin the following year.
- In 2012, two kicking errors in a 19-15 loss at Arkansas cost the Golden Hurricane what could have been an historic victory.
- In 2014, Montgomery took his Baylor offense back to the Forty Acres and won again, this time a 28-7 blowout.
- And in 2016, Montgomery took TU into Houston to face Herman’s 12th-ranked Cougars and, with the help of two late and egregious goal-line officiating errors, lost 38-31.
Saturday’s 7 p.m. contest represents a similar opportunity for Tulsa to shock the world — or at least continue to rock the Longhorns’ world.
“You know you’re dealing with a program, from a traditional standpoint, similar to Notre Dame,” Montgomery said. “Texas is one of those that has always been at the top of everybody’s list. So when you get the opportunity to go down there and play, you know your kids are gonna be excited about it. You know it’s gonna be a great opportunity to put a stamp or put a mark on some things.”
Herman’s ‘Horns are reeling after another 0-1 start. Last Saturday, Texas lost 34-29 at Maryland. It looked an awful lot like UT’s 51-41 home loss to the Terps in the 2017 season opener.
At his weekly news conference, Herman used phrases like “the sky is not falling,” “the sun is gonna come up,” “losing … is toxic,” “paralysis by analysis,” “work in progress,” “I think we’re learning,” and “it was like a funeral home.”
Times are tough in Austin. With No. 17-ranked USC coming to town next week, Tulsa — a 23-point underdog — hardly registers on anyone’s radar. Could TU be catching Texas at just the right time?
“We’ve got to learn how to manage expectations,” Herman said. “We’ve got learn how to manage self-inflicted pressure. We’ve got to manage a lot of things.”
One thing Herman must manage is how to handle being a prohibitive favorite while the castle is under siege.
Montgomery is in his fourth season at TU since leaving Baylor, and the True Blues have regaled him tale after tale of John Flanders’ end zone interception of Tommy Rees with 36 seconds left in that watershed victory. There’s actually a mural depicting the game just outside Montgomery’s office.
“Oh, it’s on the wall,” Montgomery said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “So you’re not gonna walk past it and not know. I’ve heard lots of stories about it from lots of different people, whether I’m talking to boosters, former players, coaches, just people in the community. I mean, obviously, it was a landmark, statement-type win, as it should have been, and you did it in dramatic fashion as you go back and look at it. So those are the kind of games that can live on.”
In contrast to Herman’s press conference topics, Montgomery got question after question about the Longhorns during his 25-minute media session.
There’s also the not-so-little matter of the $1.1 million Texas is paying TU to play the game. That kind of money goes a long way at a school with major college football’s smallest enrollment.
“Obviously, for our team, we’re looking at it as, this is our next opponent on the schedule,” Montgomery said. “Obviously, it’s a tough opponent and this and that, but it’s Game 2. It’s not gonna be any more than that.”
Well, it’ll be a little more. Of the 103 players on Tulsa’s 2018 media guide roster, 53 hail from the Lone Star State.
And among those, only backup quarterback Chad President was even recruited by the Longhorns.
Nine of Tulsa’s 13 assistant coaches, including Montgomery (from Eastland) come from Texas. Quarterbacks coach Beau Trahan was a Longhorn QB and safety and a 2002 team captain. Cornerbacks coach Aaron Fletcher is from Austin. Receivers coach Calvin Lowry coached at an Austin high school. Tight end Jordan Najvar played against Texas as a Baylor tight end. Running backs coach Justin Hill’s Rice team went 0-3 against the ‘Horns during his playing days. When defensive line coach Jermial Ashley played at Kansas in 2005, the Jayhawks absorbed a 66-14 beating from Vince Young’s national champion Longhorns.
It’s officially the first game ever between TU and UT, but it won’t feel like it to the Golden Hurricane. It’ll feel like a shot at redemption, comeuppance and payback all rolled into one.
“I don’t think I have to talk about that,” Montgomery said. “They’ll want to play well. They’ll want to prove who they are and what they do and where they’re from. A bunch of ‘em are gonna have a lot of family there. (Montgomery said he’ll “probably have 60 people there on my side of the family.”) It’s always nice to go back to your home state and be able to play in front of them and make your mark from that standpoint.
“Just like every other game, I’d love to win this one.”
Montgomery said “you talk about” how coaches on the TU staff have taken underdogs into Austin and won there before, but it’s not something about which anyone should drone on.
“It’s still gotta be about our football team and right now,” he said.
Still, that Halloween eve felt just as good for the Bears in Austin as it did for the Golden Hurricane in South Bend.
“It was a real good night,” Montgomery said. “I mean, it’s a good feeling.
“That’s a place where their crowd’s gonna show up and they’re gonna be loud. Any time you can go into somebody else’s back yard and get a win, it’s always gonna mean something special. You know, I don’t know that you put any more of it than that on there. Any time you can go to a place and get people to file out of the stands, then you’ve done your job.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.