As the game began, it appeared as if Iowa State had picked up where it had left off in the two team’s regular season meeting back on Sept. 1, and that was controlling TU.
The Cyclones outscored Tulsa 31-7 after falling behind 16-7 in the first quarter, en route to a 38-23 victory against the Golden Hurricane on that first day of September at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames Iowa. But things went in the other direction on Monday, the last day of December and 2012 in Memphis.
The Cyclones got the ball first and marched, finishing the drive off with a 33-yard field goal from Edwin Arceo. Then they forced Tulsa to 3-and-out, and on the Golden Hurricane’s next possession, came Jeremy Reeves’ 31-yard return of an interception for a TD that put TU in a 10-0 hole.
If you recall, it was a pick that set up the Cyclones’ game-clinching TD in the previous meeting.
TU finally got a break with a nine-play drive, capped by the first of three Alex Singleton touchdowns.
Iowa State struck again when quarterback Sam Richardson threw a touchdown pass to Ernst Brun, who scampered 69 yards to make it a 10-point Cyclone lead again.
But it wasn’t the first time Tulsa had been down this season. TU had trailed in seven of their other wins, including a 13-point deficit early in the year against Fresno State.
“I think that’s something that our team has done all year long,” Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. “They’ve had some adversity and have continued to fight back when we’ve gotten behind.
“It was very important for our guys to handle that 10-point deficit,” Blankenship said. “The offense drove the field right after that score and the defense began to really kind of put the screws down, tighten them up and make it tough on them as the game went on.”
As it turned out, that would be the end of Iowa State’s run of the upper hand. They would never score again as they would be forced to punt on most of their possessions the rest of the game.
Tulsa’s defense, who was one of the best in the nation this season when it came tackles for losses, took command. Except for a nine-play drive that ended in a missed 34-yard field goal attempt, the Hurricane never allowed Iowa State to cross midfield. The Cyclones only got four first downs after their last score and finished with nine for the game compared to 23 for the Golden Hurricane.
Safeties Marco Nelson and Dexter McCoil got interceptions. McCoil, a senior got the 18th of his career. He leaves TU as the school’s career-leader in picks and a share of the Conference USA career record.
While the defense kept dominating, the offense excelled with a rushing attack. TU would outgain Iowa State 410-268, with 317 coming on the ground. The Hurricane would get three more TDs and one field goal to win 31-17.
“I think it’s who we became,” Blankenship said.
“The ability to have three good running backs and keep them fresh, and then continue to throw and mix it up, is important for our offense. (Quarterback) Cody (Green) did a nice job of managing the game today and made some nice plays when he had to.”
Green scored TU’s second TD, an eight-yarder off a keeper.
Trey Watts got the yards with 149 on 25 carries, while Singleton got his TDs, all in short-yardage situations, including the fourth-and-goal play for the Cyclone one-yard line.
“We never wavered, not for a second,” Watts said. “We knew we just made a mistake and gave them a touchdown, but we knew we just had to rally and just keep playing our game and stick to our game plan.”
It was Tulsa’s second win in the Memphis-based bowl. It had previously beaten Fresno State in 2005, but this win came against BCS conference team.
“This is huge deal for us and that’s why we looked forward to playing Iowa State because they represent the Big XII. We liked the matchup,” Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. “We’ve missed some opportunities against other schools, and have been beaten by some really good teams. But this was an opportunity for us to take a step in the right direction and get a little more attention on the national stage."
TU finished the season at 11-3. The 11 wins tied the 2008 team for most wins in school history.
“This group of guys has accomplished something at Tulsa that nobody else has done, so that’s a huge deal for us. We’ve had a team that’s won 11 before so we tied that. We had a team that won the Liberty Bowl and the Conference USA and we’ve done that. But we did it all in the same year. We have a very tough minded, physical, resilient team and I couldn’t be prouder. I really want to give a shout out to Iowa State. They play hard, physical football and fortunately today we made a few more plays than they did. We’ll be seeing them again next year early in the season. Again, hats off to Iowa State, but I’m very proud of the guys in blue today.”