A 59-30 win against the team ranked 47th in the country by CBS Sports on their homecoming night was a great revenge for last season’s loss in our own homecoming game. This was a complete game; easily Montgomery’s best game in his two years in Green Country. Despite the overall dominance, a few things really stood out:
1) Flanders Had Himself a Game
James Flanders had an incredible day. A monster day. A record-breaking day, even. 33 carries for 249 yards and a TU school record five touchdowns. That’s 7.5 yards per carry against a team that was expecting us to run the ball early and often. It was stunning to watch him continually gash the Tigers defense for big run after big run in Memphis on homecoming night. Fantastic day for the guy I once played basketball with at the Collins Fitness Center who introduced himself simply as “Flanders.” He can call himself whatever he wants if he keeps running like that.
2) Our Offensive Line is Amazing
So, yes, Flanders ran the ball for 249 yards. And yes, the former OSU graduate transfer Raymond Taylor (RRRRay Tay!) ran for another 102 yards. But I honestly believe I could have gone for at least 50 with the holes our line was opening up. Offensive line coach Mike Bloesch deserves some President Stead money with the performances he’s gotten our O-line to put together. Dane wasn’t sacked one time, and hardly even saw pressure. TU ran for 362 yards and 6 touchdowns. The holes were glaring, and they simply dominated in the trenches.
Ray Tay with the touchdown! He goes over 100 yards with that touchdown run
Our offensive line is eating! Gotta get some Memphis BBQ tonight
— Reign Cane Sports (@ReignCaneSports) October 30, 2016
I sure hope the line was treated to that Memphis barbecue, because they were feasting out there.
3) Jordan Mitchell and McKinley Whitfield Looked Good
Junior safety Jordan Mitchell and sophomore safety McKinley Whitfield had solid games deep in the secondary. Our secondary has been surprisingly decent this year, even after losing senior leader Michael Mudoh to graduation after last season. J-Mitch, as he’s known by most, had perhaps his best game this season with several nice tackles and great positioning and closing speed in the passing game. Whitfield continues to shine as a young star-in-the-making. He had an excellent play to get a hand on the ball early in the 4th quarter that led to Petera Wilson recovering a fumble/intercepting Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson after he bobbled it behind his back. Good performances from two guys we’ll see again in TU uniforms next year.
4) Keanu Hill Had a Scary Injury
Unfortunately, and perhaps the only negative takeaway from the game, was Keanu Hill going down in the first half with a non-contact injury where his knee seemed to buckle. He did not put any weight on it as he was helped off the field, which is definitely worrying. The junior college transfer from Long Beach City College had been instrumental in the resurgence of our secondary, and up to that point had been locking down Memphis’ number one receiver, Anthony Miller, who finished the game with 12 catches for 250 yards. He made some incredible catches, so this isn’t to say Kerwin Thomas isn’t a capable corner, but losing your top defensive back is definitely a big loss for Tulsa. All of us at Reign Cane Sports, and the larger TU community, wish him the best, and our thoughts and prayers hope it is not as serious as it seemed.
5) The Secondary Giving Up Big Plays is Concerning
Likely due to Keanu’s absence, and the talent the Tigers have at wideout, the secondary struggled this game. TU has played fairly well all season, but gave up several big plays that had no reason to happen. After a sack and a couple penalties, Memphis was facing a 3rd and 28, and completed a 25 yard pass and led to a conversion on a 4th and short. Luckily, that drive ended in the interception/fumble recovery play (officially ruled a fumble) by Petera Wilson, but it was a concerning showcase from the secondary. Another 31 yard completion occurred to where their QB came under pressure and flung the ball off his back foot to Anthony Miller, who came down with the jump ball with three Tulsa defenders around him. Regardless, the secondary has still played much better than last year, with several decent games against offensive powers like Memphis, and singular talents like SMU’s Courtland Sutton.
6) The Defense Continued Their Stellar Play
Defensive coordinator Bill Young must have loaded up on some of Michael’s secret stuff for this season, because the Golden Hurricane has looked very impressive this year. It seems that the defense forces a three-and-out almost every other time they are on the field. The ability to get off the field quickly and get the ball back in Dane’s hands is a huge reason why the Hurricane is 6-2 this year. Even on the possessions that produce long drives for the opponent, TU seems to follow the “bend but don’t break” philosophy quite a bit (only 88 total yards separated the two teams, yet Tulsa left with a 29 point win). However, the most improved thing I’ve noticed this year over last is the defense swarming to the ball. In 2015, it seemed like most of our tackles were made by one player only, often Michael Mudoh outside and deep, or Trent Martin at the line of scrimmage or in the middle of the field. The 2016 Hurricane defense doesn’t seem content to let one man make the tackle, instead rushing to assist their teammate in taking down the ball carrier. This seems to be paramount in why the defense comes away with so many three-and-outs, hitting the runner in the backfield and finishing the play behind the line of scrimmage. Whatever Bill Young is preaching to this team, he shouldn’t change his message any time soon.
7) Dane Had a Solid Night
Despite having a quiet (for him) 234 yard, two touchdown day, Dane Evans put together a masterpiece Saturday night in Tennessee. He made the right play on all but perhaps one or two throws, had no interceptions or fumbles, and confidently led his offense down the field. His few read-options were the correct read, and he didn’t scramble out of the pocket at the first sign of trouble; when he did, he stayed well away from the pass rush and kept his eyes downfield. He had one or two passes that sailed on him, but altogether, he had a calm, cool, and collected senior performance.
8) The Run Defense and Pass Rush Stood Out
The run defense continues to impress. Despite Memphis not being known for their running game, Tulsa’s defense held Memphis to 117 yards on the ground before the backups came into the game late in the 4th. Even against offensive juggernauts like Ohio State and Houston, the Tulsa run defense has performed admirably. The real standout Saturday was our pass rush. Riley Ferguson was sacked three times, and 2 more near sacks resulted in Tulsa interceptions, both forced by defensive lineman Jeremy Smith. Petera Wilson continues to be a force on the outside on select downs, and Jesse Brubaker will likely appear in a few opposing quarterbacks’ nightmares for the rest of his time in the blue-and-gold jersey. With an offense like Tulsa’s, all the defense needs is a couple of stops, and they are absolutely going above and beyond that charge this year.
This is easily the cornerstone of Philip Montgomery’s coaching resume thus far, though I’m sure he only wants to add Navy and a conference championship to that list. A thorough performance from both sides of the ball in Memphis Saturday night spoiled the Tigers’ chance for a happy homecoming. This Golden Hurricane team is starting to look scary-good, and will look to continue roaring against the purple Pirates of ECU next week at home.