To defeat a ranked team for the first time since 2010, the University of Tulsa needed one more first down.
Two minutes remained against No. 23 USF on Friday night, and the Hurricane looked to its run game to seal the victory. Instead, what followed led to a 25-24 defeat, as painful as any during the current five-game skid.
After a modest pickup from running back Shamari Brooks and a 3-yard loss on a run from quarterback Seth Boomer, TU faced third-and-11. Situational quarterback Chad President, who hadn’t played, came in for an ill-fated handoff to Brooks, who was tackled for another 3-yard loss.
“I wasn’t going to put our redshirt freshman quarterback backed up in a third-and-11 situation and ask him to do something that would have been very, very difficult on him,” coach Philip Montgomery said. “I thought it was more important for the clock to run than to put him in that situation and make sure that he’s taking care of the football.
“Right there, you turn it over, short field, all of those things, then you’re basically giving them the game. So that’s why we did what we did.”
Trailing by two, USF (6-0, 2-0 AAC) got the ball back with 63 seconds and ran seven plays. Aided by a personal-foul penalty against Trevis Gipson, the drive quickly moved into Hurricane territory.
Quarterback Blake Barnett connected with Tyre McCants for a 32-yard gain to the 5-yard line, setting up a short field goal from Coby Weiss as time expired, prompting a celebration from one sideline and dejection from the other.
“Pretty tough one to swallow,” Montgomery said. “I thought our guys played extremely hard and I thought that for the most part we controlled that game.
“I can promise you I’m proud of our men that are down in the locker room, with the effort and the attitude that they’re playing with and we’re right there. We’ve got to continue to keep working, continue to keep finishing.”
The Hurricane (1-5, 0-3) entered the fourth quarter with a 14-point lead, having relied on a pair of 10-yard touchdown runs from Brooks on consecutive drives. Because of negative-yardage plays, TU netted zero yards in the final period on its nine plays.
“I thought we had two really good drives,” said Tulsa quarterback Seth Boomer, who was making his first home start. “We just needed that third one and getting a first down at the end would’ve closed it. Not that we don’t want to rely on defense, but when we are out there we want to finish the game and we didn’t do that.”
Playing a significant role in the offensive ineffectiveness was the absence of left guard Tyler Bowling, a veteran senior who left early in the fourth quarter with an injury.
“It’s a huge factor,” Montgomery said. “Tyler, in my opinion, is a NFL player. He’s guy that could do a lot of things to help us in the run game (with) him coming off the football and creating some movement, and not having him is obviously a big factor.”
Meanwhile, the Bulls gained 214 of their 487 yards in the fourth quarter to complete the rally. Barnett punched in the last two touchdowns, with the extra-point attempted blocked by Jaxon Player on the first and the two-point conversion failing on the second.
The most turnover-prone team in FBS, TU nearly prevailed while not throwing any interceptions or losing any fumbles. With his receivers well-covered, Boomer was 6-of-21 passing for 79 yards and a touchdown in his second start, and he combined with Brooks and running back Javon Thomas to total 220 rushing yards.
“The guys up front did a really great job,” Boomer said. “I just have to complete (passes). That’s really what it comes down to. I thought the defense played their tails off. I just have to do my job.”
No. 23 South Florida at Tulsa
6 p.m. Friday, Chapman Stadium
Radio: KXBL fm99.5
Records: USF 5-0, 1-0 AAC; TU 1-4, 0-2
Last meeting: On Nov. 16, 2017, USF defeated Tulsa 27-20 in Tampa, Florida.
Series: USF leads 2-0
• No. 23 USF at Tulsa: Turnover chain motivating Hurricane defense
• No. 23 USF at Tulsa: Storyline, matchup and player to watch with a prediction from Bill Haisten
• Bill Haisten: Why not Boomer sooner? Freshman QB remains the TU starter
• Wednesday's TU newsletter: Answering reader questions after a fourth consecutive loss
• Monday's TU newsletter: Failed third-down handoff to injured RB Corey Taylor II came at crucial moment