Well, the ending to this game made me sick. In fact, as I am typing this I am still literally shaking with anger as I replay the final play over and over in my head. Football is a game of inches; tonight, Tulsa was not able to get the final inch they needed to force overtime.
Cougars hold on!
No. 13 Houston stops Tulsa at the 1-yard line to secure 38-31 victory. https://t.co/9Ujm6ajwkF
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 16, 2016
In all the possible ways this game could’ve ended, I would’ve put Jesse Brubaker getting tackled at the 1 inch line probably as the 999,999th most likely ending, just ahead of Blake Browning throwing a game-winning touchdown to Dalton Parks. What an insane game, and boy it was a lot of fun. I could speak forever about how close we were to upsetting the #13 team as a 21 point road dog, grabbing a stranglehold on the West division, and perhaps climbing into the top 25 rankings, but that wouldn’t be any fun. Sure, there will be some negatives in my thoughts, but keep in mind that last year this would’ve been a blowout loss. Tulsa showed us tonight that they DO belong in the tier 1 of the AAC, even if it was in the most heartbreaking ways. Onto my thoughts
1) Dane Evans
Oh boy. First, the stats: Dane finished with 365 yards on 27/51 passing. Easily his best game passing this year; however, in a game where possessions were so important, he turned it over twice. His fumble on Tulsa’s second to last possession was… bad. I hate it for Dane. He is going to leave Tulsa as one of the best passers in school history, we don’t nearly appreciate him enough, and we are going to miss him desperately next year. All that said, his last turnover is perfect fodder for Dane Evans haters, and I hope moments like this are not his lasting legacy at Tulsa. I’ve protected Dane all year, but I cannot excuse that fumble. We had the momentum, the game was tied, you HAVE to protect the ball. These next 7 games are huge for his career, he is one of the greatest in school history, I need him to have a career-defining game.
2) Houston’s Offense is Hard To Stop
Water is wet, I know. Being at the game though you really get a sense how many things you have to worry about. Tulsa did a good job tonight and we still allowed 512 total yards. If you lock in on Greg Ward, they’ll run it right at you, if you load the box, Ward will pick you apart. If you blitz, Ward will escape and run past everyone. If you drop everyone back, Ward will sit back in the pocket and pick you apart. All of that, added to the fact that they go 100,000 miles per hour. Tough formula to stop, and no one has done so this year.
3) KEENEN JOHNSON
Last year, Keenen Johnson was playing for Alto high school, a school that has a total enrollment of 194! Tonight, he was a beast. Nigel Carter had been inconsistent in the slot, so Keenen was inserted into the lineup to provide a spark. Boy, did he provide just that. He ended up with 8 catches for 94 yards, and he was getting major receptions when the game was on the line, that is bigtime. I remember talking to Jordan Mitchell earlier this year, asking if there were any freshman that were going to get time this season, he immediately mentioned Keenen Johnson. I was skeptical, saying “are you sure he’ll play? We are already pretty strong at receiver” He shrugged and said “Going to be hard to keep that guy off the field.” After his performance tonight, I see what Jordan was talking about, it is going to be hard to justify playing anyone above him, awesome performance from the freshman. I am excited for his future.
3) Role players were A+ tonight
Wow, we were playing a lot of bodies tonight. I already mentioned true freshman Keenen Johnson, but how about redshirt freshman Reggie Robinson playing the entire game? Over my boy Keanu at times! Our workhorse Brewer was injured apparently, but Flanders did a tremendous job filling in. Redshirt freshman Chris Minter played a lot, and had some huge receptions. McKinley Whitfield both got time at safety, and did a great job helping out on the run. Then there’s Justin Hobbs, who had the best game of his career, finishing with 8 receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown. Coach Montgomery should be extremely proud and encouraged by the way those players performed on a big stage.
4) Tackling was solid
Tackling in space was an issue against Fresno and SMU. Tonight it wasn’t great, but it was pretty good all things considered. I thought it was worth recognizing the improvement they made.
5) Final thoughts
As Brett said, this hurts so much because it was a chance for a season-defining win a career-defining game for Dane Evans, and a signature win for coach Montgomery. Some perspective though, last year Tulsa was blown out by Houston, Memphis, and Navy, and those were all home games too! This game shows that Tulsa HAS made major strides this year. It hurts, hurts, hurts that Tulsa was so close but came up short. I know Montgomery only cares about WINNING games, but this was a win for the program. You have to put yourselves in positions like this in order to know how to win. At times tonight we played like we were afraid of the lead, but with experience that will fade, and we will seize the opportunity. This game gives me all the confidence in the world that not only can Tulsa win 8 games, but they CAN win every game remaining on their schedule. We have a good football team. Tonight hurt, but their are still season-defining and career-defining moments to be had this season.
Sorry for the scrambled thoughts guys, hope we can get our thoughts organized a little better on the podcast tomorrow.