SAN JOSE, Calif. — What a difference an unranked opponent makes.
As a slim favorite at San Jose State on Saturday night, the University of Tulsa found its offensive rhythm and cruised to a 34-16 win at CEFCU Stadium, ending a 13-game road skid dating to 2016.
“It was a big win for us,” coach Philip Montgomery said. “I’m very proud of our football team. We came out and established the line of scrimmage early. I thought we played with great tempo. I thought our defense came out and continued to keep building off what they did last week.”
After its lowest production since 1987 in a drubbing at Michigan State in Week 1, the Hurricane rebounded with a 539-yard outing against the Spartans. In his second start, quarterback Zach Smith was sharp and effective, completing 21 of 28 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought he played tremendously well,” Montgomery said. “I thought he went through his reads, did a really nice job of mixing some things up. He made some good throws down the field.
“That’s a tough defense to really push the ball down the field with what they’re doing. I thought he was smart when he took his chances and really threw the ball extremely well.”
Wide receiver Sam Crawford Jr. had a breakout performance, catching nine passes for 137 yards. Running backs Shamari Brooks and T.K. Wilkerson, a redshirt freshman who played after Corey Taylor II was injured in the first half, combined for 232 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Following record-setting rushing futility in the opener, TU (1-1) appeared committed to turning the tide with its first possession. Thirteen of the 14 plays on the drive were rushes, highlighted by a scamper from Brooks for a 9-yard touchdown.
“That was kind of the game plan coming in: We wanted to establish our run, really get into the flow of the game,” Montgomery said. “Scoring on your first drive is always important and I thought it just kind of gave us the momentum and we continued to keep moving with it.”
San Jose State (1-1) easily moved downfield with a 40-yard pass from Josh Love to Bill Humphreys, but the TU secondary clamped down in the red zone to prevent a touchdown and force a short field goal instead.
On another run-heavy series, the Hurricane took a 14-3 lead with a perfectly thrown pass from Smith to big-bodied tight end Denzel Carter in the back corner of the end zone.
“Those guys (at receiver) continue to keep growing and developing,” Montgomery said. “I know we’re young at receiver, but those guys continue to keep taking steps. We give Zach a little bit of time, those guys are going to find ways to get open.”
TU remained in control after delivering an impressive fourth-down stop, but a pair of defensive penalties on the next drive were damaging. The Spartans cut into their deficit with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Love to Jerma Braddock.
The passing game caught fire with three consecutive completions to reserve receiver JuanCarlos Santana, but the drive stalled inside the 10-yard line. Redshirt freshman Jacob Rainey made his first career field goal with a 27-yarder and added another from 28 yards in the third quarter.
While the defense was forcing five consecutive punts, the Hurricane pulled away. Smith found Carter in the middle of the field for a 37-yard gain that led to a touchdown from Wilkerson, who scored twice in the fourth quarter.
The Spartans scored on a fourth-and-20 play late in the game and recovered an onside kick to threaten again. Bryson Powers forced a fumble that Tyon Davis pounced on, allowing TU to run out the clock.
“It feels great to get a win,” Crawford said. “It’s our first away win in two years, so it was good to celebrate with the team. It was fun.”