Tulsa wins C-USA division title with win over UCF
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Sunday, November 18, 2012
11/18/12 at 5:48 AM
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In a high-stakes duel with the University of Central Florida - with the winner securing a Conference USA divisional title - this is how the University of Tulsa responded:
By stifling the Knights' run game to 1.9 yards per attempt.
By limiting Latavius Murray, who entered with a streak of four consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, to 60 yards on 22 carries.
By limiting UCF to two offensive touchdowns all day.
By limiting the Knights to 85 total yards during the second half.
By rushing for 209 yards behind a Golden Hurricane offensive line that had an exceedingly solid Saturday.
By nearly doubling the Knights in total yards (461 to 235).
And by avoiding penalties.
By the end of the UCF-Tulsa contest, the Hurricane had zero penalty yards and a 23-21, West Division title-clinching victory.
Functioning at a high level were Tulsa's defense, tailback Trey Watts (122 rushing yards) and the Cody Green-Keyarris Garrett passing game (three touchdown connections).
On Dec. 1, TU makes its first Conference USA title-game appearance since 2008. In the meantime, Bill Blankenship can savor his first championship as a head coach since 2005, when he guided Union High School to the Class 6A crown.
"For me right now, there's none bigger than this," said Blankenship, who celebrated on Saturday in the same manner with which he celebrates all wins - with a Diet Mountain Dew. "Those guys (Hurricane players) - I see it in their eyes. They want to win Conference USA. We've got that opportunity, and that's the greatest thing about today."
While Tulsa is 9-2 overall and 7-0 in league play, UCF's six-game win streak ended. Unless the Knights (8-3, 6-1) are beaten at home next week by UAB - and such an outcome would qualify as Conference USA's biggest upset this season - then Saturday's game served as a preview for the league championship event.
It seems a certainty that the Knights and Golden Hurricane will collide again in two weeks, and again on the H.A. Chapman Stadium turf.
The Hurricane conquered UCF in spite of self-inflicted problems. A wobbly, underthrown Green pass was intercepted by UCF's A.J. Bouye and returned 76 yards for a second-quarter touchdown and a 14-10 Knights lead.
Two weeks after struggling at Arkansas, Tulsa freshman kicker Daniel Schwarz had another tough outing against UCF. During the third period, after TU had driven 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, Schwarz's point-after kick was low and blocked. And with 3:50 left to play and the Hurricane clinging to a two-point lead, his 29-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
Otherwise, the Hurricane clearly was the better team. Garrett, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, was the most dynamic figure in the ballpark. He scored on pass plays of 70, 20 and 13 yards.
On the deep ball, Green froze two UCF defensive backs with a play-action fake.
"I saw the safety go down and he just sat right there," Garrett recalled. "I said, 'Well, he's beat,' so I just went right past him."
Without breaking stride along the east sideline, Garrett collected Green's throw and sprinted to the end zone.
On the 20-yard TD, Garrett ran through tackle attempts at the 8- and 5-yard lines. On the 13-yarder - on third-and-10 - Green released a perfectly lofted pass and Garrett beat two UCF defenders to grab the football.
Garrett became the first Tulsa player to total three TD catches in a game since 2008, when Brennan Marion did it against UTEP. Garrett's overall stats on Saturday - seven catches for 130 yards.
"(Garrett) made three big-time plays - three touchdowns," Hurricane linebacker DeAundre Brown said. "As a young buck, he's growing up. He's going to be nice."
In advance of a rematch, UCF coach George O'Leary surely will focus on his team's dysfunction against the Hurricane defense. During Saturday's second half, the Knights totaled only 28 offensive plays and only 3 yards per snap.
"I thought the game was all about their defense," O'Leary said. "They were playing much faster than our offense played, and that is what caused the pressure on the quarterback and took some of the run game away."
Knights quarterback Blake Bortles was sacked four times and frequently pressured. During its six-game win streak, UCF scored at least 30 points in each contest. Against TU, there were only two offensive TDs - a 21-yard strike from Bortles to Breshad Perriman, and Murray's 2-yard run with 9:01 left to play.
Tulsa's defense made a statement on the first play from scrimmage, as Brown shot through the center-guard gap to smash and drop Murray for no gain. By halftime, the Knights had zero rushing yards on 15 attempts.
"We knew that if we stopped the run, we'd have a chance to pressure (Bortles)," Hurricane defensive coordinator Brent Guy said. "We got (Murray) good on the first run, which always helps. We never let him get downhill on us."
UP NEXT: At SMU
11 a.m Saturday
Radio: KRMG am740, fm102.3
C-USA championship tickets on sale Sunday
Tulsa will play in the C-USA Championship Game, on Dec. 1, and the game likely will be played at H.A. Chapman Stadium at a time to be announced.
Tickets will go on sale Sunday at noon at TulsaHurricane.com. Tickets can be purchased by phone at 918-631-4688 or in person at the Reynolds Center Ticket Office beginning Monday at 8:30 a.m.
Tulsa will play either UCF or East Carolina. In the slim event that TU does not host the championship game, refunds will be issued.
Original Print Headline: Best of the West
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
TU's Keyarris Garrett looks for running room around Central Florida's Brandon Alexander. Garrett caught seven passes for 130 yards and all three Golden Hurricane touchdowns. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World
TU's DeAundre Brown (right) and Luke Snider celebrate after the Golden Hurricane's win over Central Florida on Saturday afternoon at Chapman Stadium. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World
TU's Trey Watts runs away from Central Florida's Kemal Ishmael during the second half Saturday. Watts led TU with 122 rushing yards. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World
Cory Dorris gets a plaque from coach Bill Blankenship during Senior Day festivities before Saturday's game. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World