TULSA — Tulsa’s passing game gets the headlines.
But the Golden Hurricane’s 2016 season began on Saturday with significant contributions from just about everywhere else.
In a 45-10 victory over San Jose State at H. A. Chapman Stadium, TU got touchdowns from its defense and special teams and a dominating performance from its run game.
“I thought it was a great team win,” TU coach Philip Montgomery said. “We scored in all three phases of the game tonight.”
It was Tulsa’s largest margin of victory in a season opener since 1945, when TU demolished Missouri Valley Conference opponent 61-0, and its most lopsided win in any season opener since a 45-7 victory over I-AA Stephen F. Austin in 2006.
While quarterback Dane Evans — eighth in the nation in passing yards last year and fourth in school history coming into his senior year — was frequently just a bit off, D’Angelo Brewer rushed for 164 yards and three touchdowns and averaged 7.5 yards per carry. TU rushed for 305 total yards against the Spartans.
“It feels good,” said Brewer, who added 12 pounds of muscle during the offseason. “That’s how I wanted to start the season off.”
“We work extremely hard on the running game,” Montgomery said. “That’s always been a staple of what we do.”
Said Evans, “It was incredible to see those big guys, even in pass protection, put everything to the side and focus on what they were doing. And when you’re handing off to guys like D-Brew and James (Flanders, who rushed for 82 yards on 14 carries), it’s pretty nice.”
It was also a triumphant return for star receiver Keevan Lucas. After catching 101 passes in 2014, he played just four games last year because of a knee injury. Against San Jose State, Lucas caught six passes for 112 yards, including a 46-yard bomb from Evans on the Golden Hurricane’s first possession.
But it wasn’t just the TU offense that entertained the crowd of 18,748.
Defensive tackle Jesse Brubaker, who missed the 2014 season with a gruesome eye injury, finished off the first quarter by returning Kenny Potter’s interception 24 yards for a touchdown. His somersault into the end zone gave Tulsa a 24-7 lead.
“It’s always nice to see a d-lineman do a front flip into the end zone,” Evans said. “Don’t know how he got away with that one. Especially a guy like Jesse, who’s been through so much.”
Martin tipped the pass, and Brubaker ran it back as Martin escorted him over the goal line.
“It was a lot of fun,” Martin said. “I was really excited. A big-man touchdown is always fun. And Jesse definitely deserves it.”
Then shortly before halftime, Spartans punt returner Tim Crawley fumbled a fair catch at the TU 6-yard line, and after the ball squirted into the end zone, safety McKinley Whitfield covered it to extend the Golden Hurricane lead to 38-7.
“I thought our defense played tremendous,” Montgomery said. “I thought we played really well on special teams.”
Evans was 12-of-23 for 198 yards, but was sacked four times and missed too many open receivers on what last season was his strength — the deep ball.
“I’d probably disagree with you on the Dane part of it,” Montgomery said. “We had a few dropped balls in there, had a couple of deep throws that I thought were on the money that we stumbled on or just didn’t look all the way in. But those are things that are gonna happen early in the season or early in games.
“He did a nice job of executing what we needed him to do.”
“Football’s the ultimate team game,” Evans said, “so when all three aspects can score — I think we scored just about every way you can tonight.
“The only one I want back is the one to (Justin) Hobbs in the south end zone (an overthrow after Hobbs had broken free off the line). Eyes got big. He was wide open. … I think we’ll get better from that.”
After Tulsa took a quick 7-0 lead, San Jose State tied it up on its second possession when Potter hit Rahshead Johnson open behind the TU secondary with a 64-yard TD pass.
But Tulsa scored three more times in the first quarter despite hiccups in the passing game.
The Spartans managed just 287 yards against a TU defense that ranked near the bottom of just about every NCAA defensive statistical category.
That’s just the kind of talk that motivated players and coaches all offseason.
“The media writes stuff about how bad we were and there’s nothing you can do all offseason about it,” said linebacker Trent Martin, who had a team-high 11 tackles. “We can say we’ve improved, but until we can go out there and play, there’s no way to back it up.
“We were really hyped up for the game. Extremely motivated.”
The Spartans rushed for just 53 yards on 32 carries.
“I thought our defense really stood up and stopped the run,” Montgomery said, “and I thought that was really the key to the game for us.”
Since 1945, Tulsa’s previous largest margin of victory in a season opener against a Division I opponent came in 1988 when Dave Rader’s inaugural team beat Kansas State 35-9. TU also beat San Diego State 34-9 in 1983.
Both teams were 6-7 in 2015, with TU losing 55-52 to Virginia Tech in the Independence Bowl while San Jose State won beat Georgia State 27-16 in the AutoNation Cure Bowl.
Things pick up quickly for Tulsa, which visits No. 6-ranked Ohio State next Saturday in Columbus. The Buckeyes — who play OU on Sept. 17 — crushed Bowling Green 77-10 Saturday in their season opener.
“It’s just another game to me,” Brewer said. “We’re gonna prepare. We’re gonna watch film on ‘em, see what we like and practice the plays we want to run and make it happen. We can’t do too much. I mean, we’re all humans in a jersey.”
Evans had a memorable effort in a surprisingly close loss at Oklahoma last season. He said the only lesson to be learned from that game is that the stadium is loud.
“It’s the ultimate cliché: it doesn’t matter what happens outside or how big the stadium is or (what),” Evans said. “We just like playing football. Those 11 guys that line up and face us, they’ve got to come play.
Tulsa’s McKinley Whitfield pounces on a fumbled punt in the San Jose State end zone on Saturday at H. A. Chapman Stadium. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)