For a long stretch of the first quarter, the Tulsa Hurricane looked to be every bit of the powerful football team many were hoping for entering 2012.
Unfortunately, they looked quite the opposite for most of the rest of the game.
It was one mistake after another from the beginning of the second quarter until the final snap of the fourth as TU fell 38-23 to the Iowa State Cyclones in front of a sold-out Jack Trice Stadium.
Iowa State took a 7-0 lead early on when quarterback Steele Jantz brushed aside heavy pressure to throw an incredible deep pass to Josh Lenz for the 43-yard touchdown.
TU answered quickly with a 60-yard kick return to set up great field position, but was forced to punt. If you're waiting to hear about that quick answer I referred to, you already did. It was the punt. Cole Way dropped his punt inside the five yard line, pinning the Cyclones at their own three. On the next play, TU's Brenton Todd brought running back Jeff Woody down in the end zone for a safety to make it 7-2. The resulting safety punt gave the Hurricane great field position, and they took advantage. On fourth-and-goal from the one, Ja'Terian Douglass received the pitch from Green and charged into the end zone to give Tulsa the 10-7 lead. (converted the 2-pt conversion)
The next ISU possession ended when Jantz was intercepted by Demarco Nelson. Tulsa followed the pick with another impressive drive that ended with another score. From seven yards out, Cody Green threaded the needle to find Thomas Robertson in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. The extra point was blocked, but Tulsa had answered Iowa State's opening score with 16 unanswered points, and it all began with a punt.
The Hurricane followed that by forcing a Cyclone three-and-out, and was playing with tremendous energy and swagger. This game looked like it was on the fast track to a blowout win.
But the true turning point in this game came when Tulsa least expected it. Following ISU's punt, the Hurricane was on the move again, and Green hit his favorite target Bryan Burnham over the middle for a first down. The only problem was, Burnham got flattened and the ball popped loose. The 54,931 fans were back in the game, the momentum was back on the side of the Cyclones, and the air seemed to just fly out of the Hurricane's balloon.
Jantz capitalized for Iowa State, scoring on a QB-keeper from five yards away to cut the TU lead to 16-14. Following a Tulsa three-and-out, Jantz hit his big tight end Ernst Brun for a seven-yard score to take the lead for good.
TU looked shell-shocked from that point until the fourth quarter. A series of punts, dropped passes and costly penalties left the Hurricane bickering amongst themselves and searching for answers.
Trailing 31-16 with just 10 minutes left in the game, Tulsa started a drive at its own seven yard line. Then in one play, hope was regained. Trey Watts took the handoff and trucked 77 yards all the way to the Iowa State 16. A late hit moved Tulsa inside the 10, and then Green hit Keyarris Garrett on a fade pass in the left corner of the end zone to pull the Hurricane within 31-23.
It looked as though momentum had switched back to the TU sideline, but the Hurricane just couldn't finish the comeback.
With just over two minutes left, Green's fourth-down pass was picked off, ending the hope for Tulsa. Shontrelle Johnson added a five-yard touchdown run for Iowa State to cap off the scoring.
If you look at the box score, it is easy to see why Tulsa stumbled. They lost the turnover battle 3-1, committed 60 yards worth of penalties and earned 13 fewer first downs than ISU. Sloppy play, miscues and just a simple lack of execution cost the Hurricane a big time opportunity.
Tulsa will look to rebound next week when the Tulane Green Wave comes to town for an 11:00 a.m. kickoff.