Wild West: AAC teams embracing offensive football
TULSA, Okla. (AP) Philip Montgomery has experienced more than his share of shootouts in his nearly two decades as a football coach, both on the high school level and later at Houston and Baylor.
The first-year Tulsa coach should feel right at home in the American Athletic Conference’s West division – where offenses of all shapes and sizes have put up touchdown after fan-pleasing touchdown so far this season.
Entering this weekend’s play, four of the top 22 scoring offenses in the country are in the AAC West, where things are definitely wild.
Memphis, with the nation’s third-longest winning streak at 11 games following last week’s 53-46 win over Cincinnati, leads the way with an average of 53.8 points per game entering Friday night’s game with South Florida.
The Tigers are hardly alone, with Houston (48.3), Tulsa (41.7) and option-based Navy (40.3) displaying their high-powered versions of new-millennium football.
”I don’t really like (shootouts),” Memphis coach Justin Fuente joked. ”I like the fact we’ve found a way to win.”
Winning and lots of points have gone largely hand-in-hand so far for the West’s high flyers, with the division’s top four teams entering this weekend boasting a combined 12-1 record. And that one loss was Tulsa’s 52-38 setback at No. 15 Oklahoma two weeks ago, a game in which the Golden Hurricane gained 603 total yards of offense against a Sooners defense that entered allowing only 240 per game.
Perhaps even more remarkable was that video game-like offensive output wasn’t enough to even match Tulsa’s season average of 607 yards of total offense per game. That’s the third-highest average in the country, behind only Baylor and TCU, and helps give the AAC West three of the top eight teams in the country in total offense.
The Golden Hurricane’s offensive surge comes a year after the school finished 2-10 overall and averaged nearly 200 yards fewer per game, leading to its preseason pick at the bottom of the West standings.
Quarterback Dane Evans started all 12 games for Tulsa last season, throwing for an average of 258.5 yards per game with 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Under the guidance of Montgomery, the junior is third in the country this season with an average of 390.7 yards passing per game. It’s a dramatic turnaround in performance and fortune Evans credited to a return to his high school roots, back when he and his dad – also his offensive coordinator in Sanger, Texas – would study up-tempo offenses at schools such as Oklahoma State and Texas Tech while developing their playbook.
Tulsa won its season opener 47-44 over Florida Atlantic, and it has scored 40 or more points in each of its three games entering Saturday’s game with Houston – an expected shootout where two of the AAC West’s best offenses will be on display.
”I guess as an offensive player, (the high-scoring games are) normal to me,” Evans said. ”They’re fun to play in, and I know as a fan they’re fun to watch.”
Houston is also in its first year of an offensive overhaul this season, with former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman taking over a team that averaged 414.2 yards per game last season on its way to a 7-5 record.
The early results have been nothing short of spectacular, with the Cougars sixth in the country while averaging 590.7 yards per game. That includes a 34-31 win at Louisville and an almost 700-yard offensive performance in a 59-14 win against Texas State last week – numbers Herman hopes continue well into AAC play.
”I hope they do; that’s the plan,” Herman said. ”If we’re putting up yards and scoring points, I think that’s always a good thing.”
As entertaining as the AAC West’s offensive brand of football is, even Montgomery said the style does have the potential to take a toll on the confidence of defensive players.
He said, though, that many players have grown up playing in exactly those kind of games during high school and are accustomed to the back-and-forth nature of the games – and that his staff has adjusted defensive goals to focus on limiting big plays, and on stopping teams on third down and in the red zone.
”Today’s game has changed a little bit, in my opinion, from a coaching standpoint,” Montgomery said. ”You’re not going to shut people out like you used to. There’s just too much talent on the field, and guys do a great job of scheming people up and doing things.”