Tulsa's final-play strategy backfires
BY JIMMIE TRAMEL World Sports Writer
Monday, September 06, 2010
9/06/10 at 9:26 AM
Tramel column: Heartbreak hard to swallow for TU
TU-East Carolina: Report Card
TU-East Carolina: How they scored
TU Notebook: Nice debut
Stolen moment: Pirates snatch victory on game's final play
GREENVILLE, N.C. - This was Tulsa's plan to prevent East Carolina from hitting a miracle throw at game's end: The Golden Hurricane wanted to put so much pressure on quarterback Dominique Davis that he wouldn't have time to do anything except get rid of the ball.
It was a proven plan, according to senior safety Charles Davis. He said TU got a sack and clinched a game against SMU a few years ago by doing exactly that.
With five seconds remaining in Sunday's season opener, coach Todd Graham called timeout to implement the same strategy.
But Graham said TU didn't execute properly. As a result, Davis wound up with enough time to survey the field and he picked a target that gave the Pirates the best odds of having a prayer answered. Davis lofted an up-for-grabs ball in the direction of a crowd of players that included 6-foot-8 freshman receiver Justin Jones, who doomed TU by snaring a 33-yard Hail Mary reception.
"That's our fault as coaches," Graham said. "One of our coaches was confused. On the same hand, they made the play and we didn't. You've got to give them a lot of credit. I'm really proud of our guys, how hard they played on the road. It was a game that we absolutely gave away."
Resourceful or desperate, Tulsa pulled out all the stops on the final play, including putting two players wearing No. 1 jerseys on the field and employing three offensive players (Jameel Owens, Charles Clay and Trae Johnson) on defense.
Dexter McCoil, a 6-4 safety, would have come in handy in a jump-ball situation, but he was injured earlier in the game and watched the last play from the sidelines.
Johnson, a receiver, said he has been practicing for the final-play situation for three years, including once a week this preseason.
"They put me in the middle and just tell me to go up and try to make a play like I do on fades," Johnson said, adding that he usually does well as a defender in practice.
"But it's different when there are 50,000 fans around you and it's a bigger guy going up, like 6-8. "He just went up and made a play."
Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said you try to get good "ball skill" players on the field for situations like that and he said nobody on the team has better ball skills than Johnson, who tracked down a deflection for a touchdown earlier in the game.
"We had our best guy (Johnson) on their best guy and (Jones) went up and caught the ball," Graham said.
Johnson said he won't bother watching SportsCenter highlights. He knows what he might see.
"I haven't even looked at my phone to see if I have text messages from people," he said. "I'm going to wait until I get all the way back to Tulsa just to look at them."
Original Print Headline: Pressure-packed strategy backfires
Jimmie Tramel 581-8389
TU players (from left) Jameel Owens, John Flanders, Trent Wilkins and Trae Johnson (on ground) watch as East Carolina players swarm Justin Jones after he makes the game-winning catch on the game's final play to give East Carolina the win. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World