TULSA, Okla. (AP) Tulsa will host Navy on Saturday after two straight defeats on last-second field goals.
Tulsa (1-3, 0-0 The American) opens its conference schedule against the Midshipmen (3-0, 2-0), who are coming off a 42-32 win over Cincinnati. The Golden Hurricane lost 16-13 at home last week when New Mexico kicked the game-winning 53-yard field goal.
”Tough loss, obviously. Back-to-back weeks like that are difficult,” said Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery, whose team fell 54-51 on Sept. 16 when Toledo kicked a field goal as the clock expired. ”Our guys are hungry to get a win, and I think we’re close. We played some good football teams, we’re right there in the midst of it.”
Navy has excelled at winning close games over the last two years, going 5-3 last year in games decided by one possession and 1-0 this year.
”Our games are always close,” said Midshipmen coach Ken Niumatalolo. ”I wish we could beat people like Alabama does. I’m encouraged by us finding ways to win close games. It kind of builds your character, it kind of builds your mental toughness. We know we’re going to have a lot of those type of games.”
Five things to watch on Saturday:
1. RUSH HOUR: Led by quarterback Zach Abey, Navy ranks second in the nation in rushing, averaging 393 yards per game on the ground. Abey sits 10th in the country with 471 yards, adding four touchdowns on 81 carries, while Chris High tops the running backs with 199 yards and one TD on 47 rushes. Besides the yardage, the Navy ground attack allows the Midshipmen to chew up the clock and win the time of possession battle. Through three games, Navy has averaged 35:40 possession, ranking fifth in the nation.
2. FIRE VS. FIRE: Tulsa also has a dominant ground game, rushing for 311.5 yards per game, good for fourth in the country. D’Angelo Brewer is third in the nation individually with 578 yards rushing, along with five touchdowns on 114 carries, while Shamari Brooks has gained 276 yards and four TDs on 47 rushes. The Golden Hurricane also have dual-threat quarterback Chad President, who has compiled 210 yards and four touchdowns on 34 rushes.
3. GOING WAY BACK: Niumatalolo and Tulsa associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator Brian Norwood were best friends and teammates at Radford High School in Honolulu, Hawaii, where they won a state championship. They also ran the student council (Norwood as president, Niumatalolo as vice president). They went on to play at Hawaii and served as assistant coaches together on Navy’s staff from 1995-99.
4. NO FLAG ZONE: Navy has committed just six penalties all season, with their 2.0 average leading the nation, while their 23.3 penalty yards per game ranks second. It’s an area of focus for Niumatalolo. ”We got to play mistake-free, that’s just who we are,” he said. ”We don’t want to beat ourselves. That’s why we emphasize it.”
5. THIRD TIME’S A CHARM: Tulsa leads the American and ranks eighth in the nation on third-down conversions with 52.9 percent efficiency, even after going just 5-for-13 against New Mexico last week. Navy’s offense is 10th in the country on third-down conversions at 52.5 percent. On defense, the Golden Hurricane rank 117th out of 130 FBS teams.