TU's 2010 season in review
BY ERIC BAILEY World Sports Writer
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
1/04/11 at 7:25 AM
Record: 10-3 overall, 6-2 Conference USA
Tulsa wrapped up its third season of 10 or more wins in four years with an impressive 62-35 victory over No. 24 Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve. Not many gave the Golden Hurricane much of a chance to beat the co-WAC champions, especially with the game being played at Aloha Stadium. It was Tulsa's third consecutive triumph in a bowl game, second straight over a ranked opponent, and the Hurricane has averaged 57 points in all three bowl victories. TU ended its season with seven consecutive wins.
The Golden Hurricane believed it could emerge from Stillwater with a victory over Oklahoma State on Sept. 18. TU left Boone Pickens Stadium a bruised and battered program, humbled from a 65-28 loss to the Cowboys. OSU held a 58-7 lead midway through the third quarter before pulling up on the reins. Many questions surrounded the Tulsa football program at that point. TU had lost eight of 10 games dating back to the 2009 season and, after being torched by OSU's pass game and giving up 51 points two weeks earlier, there were several question marks about the Tulsa defense.
Most memorable play
Cornerback John Flanders knew he was locked in coverage with Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd. But would the Fighting Irish take a shot at throwing the football when a field goal would suffice for a victory against Tulsa? Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees underthrew his wide receiver and Flanders made an interception that many Golden Hurricane followers will be bragging about for years to come, a game-sealing pick that set off jubilation by a small patch of blue-clad fans in Notre Dame Stadium and by many more watching the game back home in Tulsa. The final score: Tulsa 28, Notre Dame 27.
Most memorable win
The game was set over dinner by Tulsa athletic director Bubba Cunningham and Notre Dame counterpart Jack Swarbrick. It was nearly not played following the tragic death of student videographer Declan Sullivan days before the game. TU played with passion on that Saturday afternoon. Curnelius Arnick had a two-point conversion return of a blocked kick. Shawn Jackson had a 66-yard interception return for a touchdown. Damaris Johnson's punt return went for 59 yards and a TD. Kevin Fitzpatrick's game-winning 27-yard field goal set up the win, which was clinched by Flanders' interception. Tulsa became only the 19th school out of 139 visitors to debut with a win at Notre Dame Stadium.
Most memorable player
Damaris Johnson always seems to study each question you throw at him. It's probably the same way he analyzes coverage teams and defensive secondaries. Johnson, only a junior, became the NCAA record-holder for career all-purpose yards (7,796 yards) and kickoff return yards (3,427 yards). He was TU's first AP All-American since 2005, a second-team pick as an all-purpose performer. The interesting thing about Johnson? Each time you quiz him about his on-field success, he's always sure to praise his teammates for the help they provide him. It may be a good idea for Tulsa fans to enjoy him in his senior season. There may not be another like him any time soon.
Most valuable player
There were grumblings - some were whispers, some not - wondering if G.J. Kinne was the answer at quarterback, especially after Tulsa lost two of its first three games this season. By the end of November, Kinne was named Conference USA's offensive player of the year. Kinne's leadership was evident, especially during the second half of the season. Sources indicated that he played much of the first half of the season with an injured shoulder, which limited his downfield yards and ability to run and take hits. He made key plays during the season-ending win streak, especially in the road win at Houston, when he rushed for a career-best 190 yards.
I knew they could be having a big season when...
The Golden Hurricane defeated Houston 28-25 on the road. The Cougars were in Tulsa's head since beating the Hurricane 70-30 in 2008. In 2009, a last-second field goal gave Houston a 46-45 victory and extended the misery for TU. On Nov. 13, Tulsa had already recorded a key win over Notre Dame, but it also needed a big league win over a rival, and it captured one against Houston in a contest that Todd Graham called "a complete team effort." Tulsa's defense forced interceptions and the offense controlled the tempo on this chilly evening, which improved the Hurricane's record to 7-3.
Looking ahead to 2011
Tulsa could have its strongest football team in years, but will face its toughest 12-game challenge. September brings road games at Oklahoma and Boise State and a home contest against Oklahoma State - all could be ranked among the nation's top 15 schools next season. The remaining nonconference game is against North Texas. TU will welcome back nine starters on offense, but what remains to be seen is if offensive coordinator Chad Morris returns. He reportedly interviewed with Clemson on Monday. Eight starters come back on defense, including its top three tackles and eight of the top 10 tacklers. TU could be the Conference USA West favorite, with Houston and SMU visiting Chapman Stadium next season.
2010 TU SCHEDULE
Sept. 5: at E. Carolina L, 51-49
Sept. 11: Bowling Green W, 33-20
Sept. 18: at OSU L, 65-28
Sept. 25: C. Arkansas W, 41-14
Oct. 2: at Memphis W, 48-7
Oct. 9: at SMU L, 21-18
Oct. 16: Tulane W, 52-24
Oct. 30: at N. Dame W, 28-27
Nov. 6: Rice W, 64-27
Nov. 13: at Houston W, 28-25
Nov. 20: UTEP W, 31-28
Nov. 26: Southern Miss W, 56-50
Dec. 24: vs. Hawaii W, 62-35
2011 TU SCHEDULE
Dates TBA unless otherwise noted
Sept. 17: Oklahoma State
at Boise State
G.J. Kinne threw for 3,650 yards and 31 touchdowns and rushed for another 561 and seven scores this season. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World