For a third season in a row, the University of Tulsa football team will close out the schedule long after its primary goal of reaching a bowl has become impossible.
Three games remain for the 2-7 Hurricane, which will likely be an underdog in all three: Friday night against UCF, Nov. 23 against Houston and Nov. 30 at East Carolina.
“It’s tough, but we know we have to finish out the season,” senior cornerback Reggie Robinson II said. “We know there are still games to be played. We can’t just lay down. We have to keep pushing.”
Last season, bowl eligibility was out of reach with four games left and the Hurricane went on to win two of them to finish with a 3-9 record.
After being dealt its seventh loss in 2017, TU dropped its remaining three games, including two home defeats by a margin of at least 20 points.
How will this year’s team respond?
“Pride, that’s what you play for — pride in the name on the front (of the jersey) and the name on the back,” coach Philip Montgomery said. “You work too dad-gum hard and put in too much work not to take advantage of every opportunity.”
While dropping all five of its American Athletic Conference games, the Hurricane has been mostly competitive, leading SMU and Memphis in the fourth quarter of heartbreakers and staying within striking distance of Cincinnati and Tulane. The exception was a 45-17 loss to Navy in which Tulsa got steamrolled by the triple option.
On Saturday against the Green Wave in New Orleans, a 13-10 advantage quickly became a 24-13 deficit late in the first half. The Hurricane was plagued by red-zone struggles and couldn’t get closer than five points in the second half despite two interceptions by Robinson.
“It’s just a lack of execution and kind of shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties and stuff here and there,” quarterback Zach Smith said.
This week, Tulsa faces the best offense in the American. UCF (7-2, 4-1) averages 551 yards and 46.3 points per game and the Knights have prevailed in three consecutive games.
“We’re going to have a short week with a really good football team in UCF coming to town and we’ve got guys banged up that we’ve got to try to get back as healthy as possible,” Montgomery said Saturday night. “We had a true freshman (Tyler Smith) go in at left tackle for us tonight when Chris (Ivy Jr.) went down. Guys have got to get healthy and we’ve got to get home, get it schemed up, get on the field and go back to work.”
Although the season hasn’t gone as planned, the Hurricane will try to put its disappointments in the past and stay motivated throughout the final stretch.
“We’re competitors,” Smith said. “We hate losing more than we love winning. We’re going to come out each week and try to go 1-0.”