It was almost like University of Tulsa football coach Philip Montgomery had prepared a list of instances when the Golden Hurricane defense got its team out of a jam Saturday against Cincinnati.
TU turned the ball over five times in a 24-13 loss to the Bearcats — three of which came inside Hurricane territory. Cincinnati converted those five turnovers into only 10 points.
Of the six times opponents have started drives inside TU territory because of a fumble or interception this season, the Hurricane defense has given up only one touchdown — a 27-yard run in the fourth quarter Saturday after quarterback Zach Smith threw an interception on TU’s 27-yard line. Three of those instances ended with a field goal for TU’s opponent.
“The biggest thing coach (Joseph) Gillespie always tells us (is) to just embrace it,” said safety Manny Bunch, referring to TU’s defensive coordinator. “You just got to face adversity. I think coach Gillespie has been a good leader for us in facing those situations. We got a lot of leadership on the defense. …
“The biggest thing about it is all of us are experienced. We’ve all played a lot of big games and been in tough situations in most games. That experience helps us a lot.”
On Tuesday, Montgomery detailed three big plays the defense made against Cincinnati, including holding the Bearcats to a field goal after Smith fumbled at TU’s 41 on the first drive of the game. The Hurricane held Cincinnati to 2 yards on four plays and the Bearcats settled for a 50-yard field goal.
This season, TU is holding opponents to 31 points per game — a number inflated by a game against Oklahoma State and a three-overtime defeat against SMU. TU has given up more than 30 points three times this season, but all three of those opponents surpassed 40.
The Hurricane has only won games in which opponents were held to 21 points or fewer — against San Jose State and Wyoming.
“I haven’t hid the fact that our defense is our backbone,” Montgomery said. “Those guys have played extremely well all year. They step up in tight positions.”
Said Bunch about being deemed the backbone of the team: “We think so. And it’s less than the backbone and we more so look at us as we’re our brother’s keeper. We have the offense’s back, and the offense has our back, too.”