Record-setting offensive performances have been frequent in the previous four University of Tulsa football seasons under Philip Montgomery.
His first three games as head coach produced 600 yards apiece, and the Hurricane has surpassed the 500-yard mark on 19 occasions in the Montgomery era.
TU has rushed for more than 300 yards a dozen times under Montgomery, including eight games in 2016, and 400 yards three times.
Those types of performances are becoming distant memories, and they make Friday night’s record-setting disaster harder to swallow. Against an elite Big Ten defense, the Hurricane was at its worst.
Falling 28-7 at No. 18 Michigan State, TU netted 80 yards of offense for its lowest production in three decades. A flurry of sacks and a pair of bad snaps led to negative-73 rushing yards, a program record.
“It was a rough day,” quarterback Zach Smith said. “We have a lot to learn from. We’re a good football team, and we’ve got a lot to prove.”
The season opener did nothing to spark optimism among fans about a potential return to the kind of outings that characterized Montgomery’s high-powered offenses in his first two seasons and his tenure as offensive coordinator at Baylor.
“It’s not on the quarterback; it wasn’t on the receivers or the running backs,” Montgomery said. “It was us all together. This is an outstanding defense, just as advertised. … They led the nation last year in rush defense. Obviously, it showed up again (Friday night).”
The Hurricane seemingly has a better quarterback situation given the experienced options of Smith and Seth Boomer, but that is somewhat insignificant if the offensive line can’t quickly come together.
TU is trying to replace three starters on the line — most notably center Chandler Miller, who didn’t miss a game in four seasons — and facing a dominant defensive front was an impossible first task.
“This may be the best defensive line we face as a whole since I’ve been here, and we’ve played some really good teams,” Montgomery said. “This group that we faced (Friday night), everyone across the board is a Big Ten player and then you got (No.) 48 (defensive end Kenny Willekes) over there, the Big Ten defensive player of the year.
“These guys are talented and the linebackers are talented, and so those young guys learned a lot tonight and we will go back to work with those guys and give us an opportunity next week and show that we can be better.”
By virtue of primarily facing lesser opponents the rest of the year and boasting a stingy and steady defense, hope for a turnaround season is not lost. Week 2 brings another nonconference road game against Spartans — a Saturday night meeting at San Jose State, which went 1-11 in 2018 and handled FCS foe Northern Colorado 35-18 in its opener Thursday.
“This one game will not define who we are as a unit, and I think we’ve got an excellence chance to be a great football team,” Montgomery said. “Our defense is going to lead the way for us and these young offensive guys are doing some good things, and now we just have to go out and prove it and get a chance to get back out on the practice field.
“We will improve a lot from what we are going to watch when we get home and get a chance to get in the film room with these young guys and get them coached up. Next week will be 100 percent better because that’s the way our mindset is and the way we are built right now.”