Well that escalated quickly.
The first half of Thursday's season-opener between Tulsa and Bowling Green was a low-scoring slugfest; a 6-0 game at the half that had ‘down-to-the-wire' written all over it.
The second half was anything but – an avalanche of miscues that led to a 34-7 defeat and left the Golden Hurricane shaking their collective heads.
The offensive performance was disappointing, but the theme of the night was special teams. Tulsa missed two field goals, gave up a punt-return touchdown, fumbled a punt return of their own and failed on a fake punt rush attempt. Oy.
The two teams spent a majority of the first quarter exchanging punts and battling for field position, but late in the period Bowling Green shook things up. Starting quarterback Matt Schilz got a quick hook and backup Matt Johnson took advantage of his opportunity.
Johnson completed two passes for 30 yards on his first drive, leading the Falcons into field goal range where Tyler Tate banged one through to make it 3-0.
Tulsa answered right back, putting together a nine-play, 55-yard drive deep into Falcon territory. The drive was highlighted by a clutch 37-yard pass from Cody Green to Jordan James on a 3rd and 5. The drive stalled and Carl Salazar got his first chance as TU's new placekicker, but pushed a 37-yard attempt wide right, ending the threat.
Later in the second quarter, the Falcons' offense was on the move again. Johnson found Shaun Joplin for a 21-yard hookup to the BGSU 46, but the Golden Hurricane defense put a stop to that quickly. Two plays later, Johnson's pass was picked by Dwight Dobbins at the Tulsa 45, who returned it to the Bowling Green 45 yard line.
Dobbins set TU up with a golden opportunity to finally get on the board, but once again, the Hurricane couldn't cash in. After driving inside the Falcons' red zone, Green found Derek Patterson on the outside, and Patterson had his eyes on the end zone. But BGSU's Boo Boo Gates stripped the ball at the three and Aaron Foster pounced on it at the two for the Falcons.
Despite the poor execution, Tulsa only trailed 3-0, and got another scoring chance on its next drive. The Hurricane defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense drove it back inside the Falcons' red zone. Once again the drive stalled and Salazar was called upon to try and tie the game, and once again he pushed a chip shot wide to the right. This time it was from 33 yards, right between the hashes.
Bowling Green answered with one last push before the half, stringing together a 16-play, 70-yard drive that resulted in Tate's second field goal of the night.
The 6-0 halftime deficit marked the first time TU failed to score in a first half since Sept. 24, 2011 at Boise State. TU responded with 21 second-half points in that contest – not so much Thursday night.
Bowling Green wasted no time in the third quarter, receiving the kickoff and marching 75 yards in just six plays. Freshman William Houston pounded it in from a yard out to put BGSU up 13-0.
The punting contest continued until late in the third quarter, when Tulsa decided to roll the dice. Facing a 4th and 1 from their own 16, the TU coaches called for a fake punt, but the Falcons' defense snuffed it out. Houston punched it in just four plays later, once again from a yard away, and Bowling Green seized a commanding 20-0 lead.
That's about where this game turned from frustrating to flat-out ugly for TU.
After TU forced a punt, Trey Watts muffed the return and Bowling Green pounced on it at the Tulsa eight. Houston capitalized with yet another one-yard plunge to make it 27-0 and the Golden Hurricane looked completely dejected.
Tulsa's offense failed again, and the special teams' woes went one step further. Ryan Burbrink returned the ensuing punt back 67 yards for another BGSU touchdown, and the rout was on.
The spread was so wide, coach Bill Blankenship pulled many of his starters, including Green. Backup Dane Evans got a chance and took advantage. Evans found Patterson for a 27-yard touchdown to get TU on the board and avoid the season-opening shutout.
Green finished 17-34 for 172 yards, while Evans totaled 50 yards on 3/7 passing with a score. The Hurricane rushing attack, which was arguably the most dynamic in the country last season, looked sluggish. Ja'Terian Douglas led the way with 12 carries for 22 yards, while Watts only received four carries for eight yards. TU totaled just 51 rushing yards on 24 attempts.
Johnson finished 11/23 passing for 151 yards and a pick, but it was his energy that sparked the Falcons' offense. He scrambled for 50 yards as Bowling Green totaled 233 yards on the ground.
TU gained just 12 first downs all night and converted just 6-17 on third down. The Hurricane kicks off their home slate next Saturday against Colorado State.