During the Golden Hurricane Football Kickoff Luncheon scheduled for noon Tuesday at River Spirit Casino, Philip Montgomery introduces his 2019 University of Tulsa team to an audience of boosters.
What exactly might be the gist of Montgomery’s message?
For the sake of optimism and ticket sales, it’s a given that he will fill the Grand Ballroom with positivity.
It’s infinitely more essential that he follows with a 2019 season that looks better than the 2018 and 2017 seasons — when TU lost 19 times in 24 games.
When he spoke to the Kickoff Luncheon crowd two years ago, Montgomery was in a great mood. His 2016 squad had been 10-3 with a 45-point bowl victory, and it had the distinction of having been driven by a 3,000-yard passer (Dane Evans), two 1,000-yard receivers (Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson) and two 1,000-yard rushers (James Flanders and D’Angelo Brewer).
“I’m excited about the direction we’re headed,” Montgomery told the Kickoff Luncheon crowd.
About 3½ months later — after his quarterbacks completed only 53% of their passes and threw more interceptions than TD passes — the Hurricane was 2-10.
As Tulsa was 110th nationally in passing, a 10-win season was followed by a 10-loss season.
While everyone knew that Evans would be missed, no one expected 2-10.
A year later, the 2018 Hurricane was 109th in passing and closed with a record of 3-9.
As the head man and offensive coordinator, Montgomery is responsible for the Golden Hurricane’s 2019 fate.
After the 2016 season, TU people were concerned that he might be stolen by a bigger school with bigger money.
Since the 2018 season, there has been speculation about his job security and the universal opinion that he needs a nice 2019.
A third consecutive losing season would be deflating. Football season is so much better when TU is a winner.
Since World War II, the Tulsa program has had only three streaks of as many as three consecutive losing seasons. There were three in a row in 1953-55, 11 in a row in 1992-2002 and three in a row in 2013-15.
The upcoming season should be a defining chapter in Montgomery’s run as a head coach.
One segment of the program is super healthy. The hype about the defense is justified. This defense is Tulsa’s best since 2012, and the 2012 defense was among the better units in program history.
The offensive segment — the one more readily identified with Montgomery — remains a mystery.
There has been the expectation that Baylor transfer Zach Smith would thrive at quarterback, and that competition would elevate Seth Boomer to a higher level of performance, but during a Saturday scrimmage nothing clicked.
Neither QB drove the first-team offense to a touchdown.
On the front page of the Tulsa World Sunday sports section, there was a sobering headline: “Defense shines, offense fizzles.”
The presumed reaction from TU fans: NOT AGAIN.
Was the Saturday offensive dud an anomaly or a sign of things to come?
Probably the former.
Running backs Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor II didn’t play very much. The defense is extremely familiar with the tendencies of their offensive counterparts.
Several pass attempts missed targets by a mile, but it didn’t feel like panic was the right reaction. It just felt like a terrible morning for the offense.
It happens during every preseason camp, with every team in football. The defense wins one day and the offense wins the next. On Saturday, the Tulsa defense won big.
I saw enough of TU during the spring to believe that the 2019 offense — with Smith or with Boomer — will be better than the 2018 or 2017 model.
Will it be enough to get at least seven wins?
Before Montgomery begins installation of the offensive game plan for the Aug. 30 opener at Michigan State, he has lunch with 400 Hurricane fans at River Spirit.
His predecessor at TU — Bill Blankenship — was the featured speaker during the 2013 and 2014 preseason pep rallies.
Blankenship’s 2012 team was 11-3 and won a conference title. His 2013 luncheon message: “We have the makings, I hope, for a very special year.”
Dogged by quarterback issues, the 2013 Hurricane was 3-9.
Blankenship’s luncheon message in 2014: “I promise you — you’re going to love this year’s team.”
Dogged by quarterback issues, the 2014 Hurricane was 2-10.
It will be interesting to hear what Montgomery has to say about his quarterbacks and his program on Tuesday, and fascinating to watch what transpires thereafter.