NEW ORLEANS — Having arrived at a critical point in the season, the University of Tulsa needed a smart performance: Penalty-free execution, a strong run game and a stifling defense, and to complement it all with a sense of urgency.
Instead, the Golden Hurricane’s final Conference USA clash with Tulane will be remembered as having been sloppy and uninspired. There were four turnovers, horribly timed penalties and wasted opportunities.
The Superdome is located in downtown New Orleans, also known as the Big Easy. The Hurricane has thrived in this stadium — winning big and easily in 2007, 2009 and 2011 — but Saturday there was an outcome that all but erases Tulsa’s chances of repeating as the Conference USA champion.
After having prevailed in all eight of its previous C-USA meetings with the Green Wave — and having done so by an average score of 43-12 — Tulsa was humbled Saturday.
Tulane won 14-7, reaching the six-win mark overall and achieving bowl eligibility for the first time since 2002.
For the second time this season, the Hurricane mustered only seven points. On opening day, Tulsa was popped 34-7 at Bowling Green.
Against Tulane, for the first time since 2001, Tulsa started a freshman at quarterback. Because of senior Cody Green’s right-knee soreness, redshirt freshman Dane Evans got his first college start. He was intercepted three times. There was an interception in the end zone and another at the Tulane 1-yard line.
At the end of a 22-yard, fourth-quarter pass play, Hurricane freshman wide receiver Keevan Lucas lost a fumble.
At UTEP two weeks earlier, Tulsa was not penalized. The Hurricane entered Saturday’s game with the distinction of being the least-penalized team in college football. But Tulsa was a mess. There were eight flags for 94 yards.
Before Saturday, Tulsa kicker Carl Salazar had been good on 11 consecutive field goal attempts. Against Tulane, he misfired on a 35-yard try (his only opportunity).
“It was just an incredibly snakebit day,” said Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship, whose team dropped to 2-5 overall and 1-2 in C-USA.
In two previous seasons, Blankenship was Mr. October. His 2011 and 2012 Tulsa teams were a combined 7-0 in games played during the month. The 2013 Hurricane was 1-2 in October.
Against a Tulane defense that had allowed only 104.6 rushing yards per game, the Hurricane ran for 205. In a road game, Tulsa’s young defense gave up only 301 total yards and two touchdowns. That kind of performance typically results in a victory, but the penalties and a 43 percent passing game doomed the Hurricane.
“The speed of the game wasn’t too fast. I just didn’t play good,” said Evans, who was 13-of-30 for 139 yards. “I’m just mad at myself. I let my teammates down. I feel bad.”
After emerging from a quiet Tulsa locker room, linebacker Shawn Jackson said, “We’re a team. We’ve got to find a way to win, no matter what. We didn’t get it done tonight as a team. We don’t point fingers at offense or defense.”
Blankenship said Green probably will be able to start next week’s homecoming meeting with Texas-San Antonio at H.A. Chapman Stadium.
Assessing Evans’ Superdome experience, Blankenship said, “I don’t know what to say. I thought he made some really good plays at times and made some freshman plays at times.”
With its first win over Tulsa since 1968, Tulane improved to 6-2 overall and 4-0 in C-USA. The Green Wave and Rice share the West Division lead.
“I guess (Tulsa has) been the dominant force in the conference so far,” said Tulane defensive tackle Julius Warmsley, who recorded four tackles behind the line of scrimmage. “They came in with a little swagger. They were a little disrespectful when they were walking on the field, and that kind of bugged us a little bit. But they are a good team. They are a very good team, and it was just our day.”
While the Hurricane got its only touchdown on a 1-yard, fourth-down dive by Trey Watts, the Green Wave converted on two TD passes — Devin Powell’s 19-yarder to Justyn Shackleford and a 33-yarder to Ryan Grant.
This statistic underscores the extent to which Tulsa had dominated the Green Wave in conference play. When Tulane took the lead at 14-7 — on the Powell-Grant connection — the seven-point difference represented the Green Wave’s largest lead ever over the Hurricane in a league game.
Tulsa 0 – 0
Tulane 0 – 0
Key play: With 3:30 remaining in the period, after Tulsa had driven from its own 4-yard line to the Tulane 23, Hurricane freshman quarterback Dane Evans was intercepted by Green Wave cornerback Jordan Sullen in the end zone.
Key stat: 77. Before Saturday, Tulane had allowed an average of only 104.6 rushing yards per game. During the first quarter Saturday, the Hurricane ran the football 14 times for 77 yards.
Number to know: 25. Tulsa entered as the least-penalized team in college football at 20.8 yards per game. During Saturday’s opening period, the Hurricane was penalized twice for 25 yards.
Tulsa 0 7 – 7
Tulane 0 7 – 7
Key play: On a third-and-4 play from the Tulsa 28, Tulane’s Devin Powell misfired on a pass attempt. But Tulsa freshman end Dalton Rodriguez was flagged for roughing the passer – a penalty that gave the Green Wave a first down at the Hurricane 14. Two plays later, Powell connected with Justyn Shackleford for a 19-yard TD.
Key stat: 1-of-5. During the second period, Tulsa freshman quarterback Dane Evans completed just one of his five pass attempts.
Number to know: 1-of-7: During Saturday’s first half, the Golden Hurricane was only 1-of-7 on third-down conversions.
Tulsa 0 7 0 – 7
Tulane 0 7 7 – 14
Key play: As his linemen did a great job of reacting to the Hurricane’s blitz, Tulane quarterback Devin Powell found Ryan Grant for a 33-yard touchdown.
Key stat: 74. Against UTEP on Oct. 12, the Hurricane was not penalized. Through three periods Saturday, Tulsa was penalized six times for 74 yards.
Number to know: 7. Through three quarters, Tulane had a 14-7 lead. It stands as Tulane’s largest lead ever against Tulsa in a Conference USA game.
Tulsa 0 7 0 0 — 7
Tulane 0 7 7 0 — 14
Key play: With 6:56 left to play, and at the end of a 22-yard pass play, Hurricane freshman wide receiver Keevan Lucas fumbled the football. It was recovered by Tulane’s Zach Davis at the Green Wave 38.
Key stat: 38. In a seven-point game, Tulsa during the fourth period never got closer to a touchdown than the Green Wave 38-yard line.
Number to know: 1-2. Tulsa is 1-2 in October games this season. In 2011 and 2012, the Hurricane had a combined October record of 7-0.