Arkansas halts Tulsa’s unbeaten run
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP)—Every quarter this season, Tulsa had found a way to score. No matter the opponent, the Golden Hurricane kept moving the ball at will and finding the end zone.
Then in the final minute against Arkansas, with it’s unbeaten record hanging in the balance, David Johnson and Tulsa finally fell short.
Johnson threw incomplete on fourth down from the Arkansas 7, giving the Razorbacks a 30-23 victory Saturday and ending No. 19 Tulsa’s unbeaten run.
“Obviously our BCS dreams are wounded, but we still want to finish up conference undefeated and win the Liberty Bowl,” defensive lineman Wilson Garrison said. “This is just a bump in the road.”
It sure was a big one. Tulsa (8-1) came into the game leading the nation in scoring, putting up 56 points a game with its fast-paced offense full of misdirection plays. The Golden Hurricane, who play in Conference USA and had not played a team from a BCS conference, were hoping an unbeaten regular season would be enough to earn a spot in the Bowl Championship Series.
They rallied from an early 17-0 deficit, but Dennis Johnson’s 96-yard kickoff return gave Arkansas a 30-23 lead in the final minute of the third period. Neither team scored in the fourth—Tulsa’s first scoreless quarter of the season.
“You watch them in their other games, and they’re scoring 60 points and 77 — and you don’t sleep very good all week long,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. “For our defense to come out and hold them to 23 points, I think that’s an excellent job.”
The Golden Hurricane (8-1) caught a huge break when Casey Dick threw an interception in the end zone with just over three minutes remaining. Arkansas (4-5) was well within field goal range, but the turnover gave Tulsa a chance to tie.
Johnson moved his team downfield with ease, but after reaching the Arkansas 5, Tulsa was stopped on two straight runs. That brought up fourth down, and Johnson’s pass to the back corner of the end zone fell incomplete.
“Arkansas’ defense did a great job up front, especially early,” Johnson said. “They did some things that confused us a little bit, and came at us hard from the get-go.”
Tulsa appeared overmatched at first against its Southeastern Conference opponent. Arkansas scored on the game’s first drive on a 13-yard pass from Dick to Andrew Davie. The Razorbacks then sacked Johnson on Tulsa’s first two offensive plays.
The Golden Hurricane called two early timeouts while Arkansas had the ball, but still couldn’t stop the Razorbacks’ momentum. When Smith scored on a 7-yard run with 2:22 to play in the first quarter, it was 17-0.
Tulsa turned the game around quickly. Backup quarterback Jacob Bower found Trae Johnson for a 22-yard touchdown. Charles Clay added a 28-yard touchdown run and later caught a 2-yard TD pass from Johnson to tie it at 20.
Johnson threw for 322 yards and was intercepted once.
Arkansas led 23-20 at halftime, and Tulsa turned the ball over at the start of the third quarter when a wide receiver pass by A.J. Whitmore was intercepted. On their next possession, the Golden Hurricane came up short on fourth down, but their defense rose to the occasion. Arkansas went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Tulsa 16, and Smith was stopped.
Tulsa drove all the way to the Arkansas 2 and had first-and-goal, delighting the large group of blue-clad fans in the northeast corner of the end zone. But a mishap on a snap cost the Golden Hurricane 12 yards. They eventually settled for a field goal, and Dennis Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to put the Razorbacks ahead to stay.
“I thought about it all last night that I wanted to break one,” the Arkansas freshman said. “When I saw that opportunity, I took it.”
Dick threw for 385 yards, but aside from Johnson’s return, Arkansas didn’t score in the second half. The Razorbacks made up for that by holding Tulsa to by far its lowest point total of the season. The Golden Hurricane had scored at least 37 points in every game under the eye of offensive assistant Gus Malzahn— who was the offensive coordinator at Arkansas in 2006.