Much of the credit for Tulsa's 6-1 start has gone to the running game, and rightfully so. The running back combo of Alex Singleton, Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas has been as explosive as any group in the country, combining for just under 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns, but they aren't the only reason TU was the fourth-fastest team in the FBS to become bowl eligible this season.
The Hurricane defense has made a habit of stepping up in big moments. Whether it's been a dominant four-quarter effort like the Fresno State or UTEP games, or making the plays in crunch time despite a subpar performance, such as the UAB game, this defense has done what is necessary to win.
A big reason behind that is linebacker Shawn Jackson. The junior was suspended for the first three games of the season by coach Bill Blankenship for a violation of team policy, but has made a major impact since his return.
When Blankenship suspended him, he made it clear that he still had high expectations for Jackson. He said he expects Jackson "to be a leader on and off the field, and I firmly believe that he has the character, determination and work ethic to be just that for this football team."
Well, that's exactly what he's gotten. Jackson has 37 tackles and 1.5 sacks in his four games this season, plus of course his fumble return for a touchdown last week against UTEP.
"He is a playmaker. He has a nose" Blankenship says of Jackson.
"He makes me smile because you watch him, and he doesn't look like he should be able to do what he does, and yet he just has a way of making plays."
TU is going to need Jackson and his teammates to continue making those big plays as the Hurricane approach the most treacherous stretch of the season. TU plays Rice this Saturday and then finally gets a bye week, but after that, matchups with Arkansas, Central Florida and Houston will test what Tulsa is made of.
Jackson believes he has what it takes to lead this Golden Hurricane defense the rest of the way.
"Experience. It's my third year, since I played as a freshman. I wanted to help with anything I could do when I came back from my suspension. I just told the guys that we were just going to pick up from where we left off."