Miscues doom Hurricane in loss to SMU
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Sunday, November 25, 2012
11/25/12 at 5:35 AM
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DALLAS - There were myriad reasons why the University of Tulsa would want to play winning football Saturday.
But during a beautiful, 58-degree afternoon at Gerald J. Ford Stadium, the Golden Hurricane appeared to be anything but motivated during the first half.
One week after defeating the University of Central Florida to secure the Conference USA West Division title, TU was uninspired during the opening half of its regular-season-ending meeting with underdog SMU.
There was a blocked punt that led directly to an SMU touchdown.
There was a fumble that led directly to an SMU touchdown.
And there was an interception that led directly to an SMU touchdown.
By halftime, there was a 28-6 Hurricane deficit. By the 4:14 mark of the third quarter, it was 35-6.
"We had no one to blame but ourselves," Hurricane coach Bill Blankenship said. "A punt-block. Putting the ball on the ground. Playing lackadaisical. It was just ugly.
"We had to go down fighting."
Tulsa did exactly that, scrambling for a late-third-period TD by Willie Carter and fourth-quarter TDs by Keyarris Garrett and Willie Carter. After driving from its own 6-yard line to the Mustang 35 in less than one minute, Tulsa had time for one more play - Cody Green's Hail Mary pass to the goal line.
TU's Jordan James made the catch as time expired, but the ball did not cross the front edge of the end zone. With a touchdown, the Hurricane would have a two-point conversion play and a chance to tie.
Instead, after officials reviewed the play and determined that James made the reception just inches beyond the goal line, SMU celebrated a 35-27 triumph that lifted the Mustangs to a 6-6 record - and to bowl eligibility for the fourth consecutive season.
"It hurts, but it's something you remember and you use it as fuel," said James, who had nine catches for a career-high total of 145 yards. "There's something special about this team. We continue to say it every week, and it continues to hold true. I just love how this team never gives up."
Tulsa was beaten in spite of a 591-305 advantage in total yards. The Hurricane tied a program record for pass attempts (65) and set a new program record for offensive plays (103).
For the first time in two seasons as the Tulsa coach, Blankenship was dealt a loss in a conference road game. Before Saturday, TU had a streak of eight consecutive C-USA road wins. The Hurricane suffered its first road loss in league play since Oct. 9, 2010 - at SMU.
With UCF having beaten UAB, next Saturday's Conference USA championship is set. For the second time in three weeks, UCF visits TU's H.A. Chapman Stadium. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m.
For the first time this season, Tulsa will not have senior Brian DeShane at right offensive tackle. DeShane, who has played at an all-conference level, sustained an apparently serious left-leg injury during the second period of the SMU game. He was carted off the field.
The Hurricane dropped to 9-3 overall and 7-1 in C-USA.
"I hate saying it, but (the SMU game) will be a huge learning experience," Blankenship said. "We'll be able to talk about this for a long time - how bad it was, and yet you had an opportunity to win."
While TU officially had 65 pass attempts against the Mustangs, Green was 36-of-64 for a career-high total of 413 yards. Late in the game, Green spiked the football to stop the clock. It was recorded as having been a team pass instead of an individual attempt. If it had been considered a Green attempt, the TU junior would have tied Billy Guy Anderson's 47-year-old program record for single-game pass attempts. Twice during the 1965 season, Anderson launched 65 passes.
TU's late comeback against SMU "shows that this team has fight in it," Green said. "(Blankenship) wanted to see how we were going to respond after halftime. We can't give teams a 28-point lead. We did a hell of a job of trying to come back."
Green's counterpart - SMU junior quarterback Garrett Gilbert - finished 10-of-27 passing for only 111 yards. Gilbert entered with only 137 rushing yards all season, but surprised the Hurricane defense by running for 120 on Saturday. It was Gilbert's 74-yard touchdown dash that gave the Mustangs a 28-6 cushion during the second period.
"Garrett has run the ball well the last few weeks," SMU coach June Jones said. "We called a run for him today and guessed right and it resulted in that long TD.
"I think the early turnovers played a big role. When you can get the emotion of the game on your side - especially at home - it gives you a big plus. At the end, the momentum wasn't in our favor, and you could see that."
Gone is the Hurricane's shot at becoming the first 12-win team in program history. By beating SMU, the Hurricane would have posted its first 8-0 run in Conference USA play.
Also, Tulsa could have matched a C-USA milestone. In the history of the conference, the best 21-game run in league play was the 20-1 mark by Southern Miss in 1998-2000. With a victory Saturday, the Hurricane would have been 20-1 in its last 21.
But there is no 20-1 for Tulsa. There is a 19-2, but also a chance to win a championship next week.
C-USA TITLE GAME
TU (9-3) vs. UCF (9-3)
11 a.m. Saturday
Radio: KRMG am740, fm102.3
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
TU's Cody Green is pressured by SMU's Margus Hunt during the second half Saturday in Dallas. TOM GILBERT/ Tulsa World
TU's Thomas Roberson hurdles SMU's Chris Parks during the second half Saturday. Roberson had four catches for 40 yards. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World
TU's Cory Dorris gets a hand on SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert during the first half. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World
TU's Alex Singleton picks up yardage during the first half. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World