The Tulsa Golden Hurricane out-rushed the UTEP Miners by 250 yards, forced three turnovers and made a little history in an impressive 33-11 win Thursday night at Chapman Stadium.
Despite the lopsided final score, it was a slow start for the Hurricane. TU's offense looked half-asleep in the first half, only managing six points against a UTEP team that came in giving up 27 per game.
Tied 3-3 in the first quarter, quarterback Cody Green hit Thomas Roberson for a 41-yard gain, but Roberson coughed it up and UTEP recovered at its own 14, squandering a great scoring chance for the Hurricane.
Tulsa caught a huge break in the second quarter, when UTEP jumped offside on Daniel Schwarz' botched 36-yard field goal attempt. Later that drive, Schwarz cashed in on his second chance, putting TU up 6-3.
I'm not sure what Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship told his team at halftime, but whatever it was, it sure lit a fire.
TU was looking for a jolt of energy, and it came on the opening drive of the second half. Facing a 4th and 1 from their own 34 yard line, Blankenship elected to roll the dice and go for it. (Although when you have big Alex Singleton in your backfield, those dice are pretty loaded.) Singleton blew through the UTEP defensive line and picked up the first down with a six-yard pickup.
That play provided that jolt the Hurricane was looking for, and we saw a different team the rest of the night.
Tulsa promptly marched right down the field and Singleton finished what he started, pounding it in from one yard out to put the Hurricane up 13-3.
Things got worse for UTEP when quarterback Nick Lamaison was injured at the start of the ensuing drive, but backup Carson Meger entered the game and gave the Miners some hope. Meger's first three passes combined for 75 yards and before you could blink, UTEP was inside the TU 10.
But big plays was the theme of the night for the Tulsa defense, and on 4th and goal from the three, Lowell Rose intercepted Meger's pass in the end zone, ending the Miners' threat and keeping momentum on the home sideline.
From that point, Tulsa took what had been a close game and made it really ugly, really fast. Two plays after Rose's interception, Ja'Terian Douglas took a handoff and bolted 81 yards to the end zone, putting TU ahead 19-3.
The snowball got even bigger for UTEP on its ensuing drive when Meger fumbled and TU linebacker Shawn Jackson scooped it up and ran it in for yet another Hurricane touchdown to take a 26-3 lead.
TU had just scored 20 points in just seven minutes of play, leaving the players and coaches on the UTEP sideline looking like they just got off an extended ride on the tilt-a-whirl.
After recovering yet another UTEP fumble, Tulsa put backup quarterback Kalen Henderson into the game, echoing the thoughts of all who were watching: this game was over.
UTEP wasn't ready to quit though, and after forcing a TU three-and-out, Meger hit Jordan Leslie for a 61-yard touchdown strike to trim the lead to 26-11.
TU decided the game wasn't quite over after all, so Green came back in. On the fifth play of the drive, Green found Zack Langer for a 55-yard pick up all the way to the UTEP 10 yard line. Langer clearly stepped out of bounds around midfield, but the play was never reviewed, and on the very next play, Alex Singleton made history.
Singleton got the call and plowed in from 10 yards out, tying Tarrion Adams and Michael Gunter for the school record for rushing touchdowns with 32. Singleton's second touchdown of the night also moved him into a tie for seventh place on Conference USA's all-time rushing touchdown list.
Despite the slow start, Thursdays win was a refreshing change of pace for the Golden Hurricane. After surviving back-to-back shootouts on the road where they allowed a combined 80 points, the Hurricane used a strong defensive effort to throttle the Miners.
The win improves Tulsa to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in Conference USA play. TU is just the fourth team so far this season to become bowl-eligible, joining Oregon, South Carolina and Ohio. The Golden Hurricane hosts Rice next Saturday before enjoying a bye week.
UTEP falls to 1-6 overall and 0-3 in conference play and hosts winless Tulane next week.