So heartbroken right now.
Yet, so proud.
Before reading further, understand that the following is mostly stream of consciousness. The following took about 15 minutes to construct. My fingers may have typed more quickly or candidly than a proper article. Alas…
The Tulsa Golden Hurricane were one inch away from upsetting the #13 Houston Cougars.
One inch. Or, about 2.54 centimeters for you metric crowd.
This was such a team-defining possibility. I believe it still is, but not in the way that anyone who has worn blue-and-gold would have hoped.
Keenen Johnson, first off, was incredible. The true freshman from Alto, Texas saw his first action, and immediately developed chemistry with Dane Evans. Evans looked to him early and often, seemingly growing more and more comfortable with him as the game transpired. Eight catches for 94 yards, with several clutch catches in big moments. Watching our recruits’ highlights before the season, I was curious if he or Josh Stewart would see the field, and that question has partly been answered. His only error I could spot was missing a block on an outside screen that led to Dane’s lone interception. Great game from the young guy.
Another quick shout out to Justin Hobbs, who stepped up tonight. He is a physically talented sophomore receiver, who seems to develop as the season rolls along. Also, Chris Minter, not normally called to be a receiver, made two nice catches tonight. And Corey Taylor, the freshman running back from Holland Hall, whose first carry of his Tulsa career was for a touchdown. He likely would not have seen the field without Raymond Taylor and D’Angelo Brewer being hurt, but it is almost never a bad thing for young guys to get experience, especially on a major stage like a nationally televised game against a ranked opponent.
Dane, unfortunately, seems to have a curse on him. He plays well for stretches at a time, over the course of multiple games, but whenever the stage is set for him to become a bona fide TU hero, something awful always seems to happen.
-Ohio State’s safety undercutting the route to take an interception back to the house and completely change the flow of that game
-The fumble tonight on what should have been the go-ahead drive that was returned for what turned out to be the game-winning score
-Last season’s bowl game, when he was leading a promising drive before he was sacked, ending the game. Whether or not this was his fault, he will still be criticized by some.
All in all, Dane is the leader of this team, and he is a talented, mature, respected senior for this team that seems to draw so much criticism from some people for this reason. I find this unbelievable, as he has been great for the Hurricane. Sure, maybe he could have been more careful with the ball tonight on that last drive. But he shook off the dejection of that costly error on the road against the 13th ranked team in the country, and led the Hurricane to the 1 yard line. I believe Coach Monty put it best in the post-game, saying “… [D]idn’t feel like we lost the game, it just felt like we ran out of time.”
I’m just sad. We played well against Virginia Tech in the bowl game last year, which would have really solidified the success Montgomery achieved in his first year. The loss at Ohio Stadium was depressing because we were objectively the better team for most of the first half. Not a single Buckeye fan we talked to that day seemed worried in the least about losing to us. And tonight, TU played on equal footing with a team that was a dark horse to make the College Football Playoff. A team that thrashed the Sooners. A team who, without the loss to Navy, would likely have had a player at the Heisman ceremony. A team that is supposed to only have 12 teams in the country that are considered better than them. And we played them to the 1 yard line.
Some people will be upset at Dane. Some will be upset at the refs for “missing” the 13 men on the field Houston had on the fateful last play. Some will be vindicated, eternal pessimists, that they “knew Tulsa would lose.” But I would like to focus on the positives.
We went on the road against a fantastic team in the Cougars, and played them as equals. We didn’t resort to trick plays, we didn’t smash them on the turnover ratio, and there were no breaks or weird calls that went our way which may have caused this to be a close game. We simply played our game and took Houston to the end. We’ve found a new weapon in Keenen Johnson. We’ve gained even more confidence in our offensive line, that they performed relatively well, even with two starters hurt, and against the singular force that is defensive end Ed Oliver. The play-calling was much better. We were not intimidated, and we were not shown to be the lesser talented team. We showed that we could go toe-to-toe with a team that is supremely talented, capable of beating schools such as OU and perhaps Louisville later this year.
So, despite the heartbreak as the referee announced that “the runner was stopped short of the goal line”, I am instead coming away even more confident in the 2016 Golden Hurricane. The fact that I have been legitimately disappointed this year by road losses to Ohio State and Houston speaks volumes about the improvement this team has undergone in such a short time. I already miss Monty. (I may have prayed once or twice that he stays for my senior year). Regardless, I would hate to be a Tulane fan next week. Our boys are more than ready for their well-deserved homecoming.