Why does TU play teams like Ohio State?

Believe me, I understand why athletic programs the size of The University of Tulsa would want to play some of the major power houses in the country, but to go into a game against the No. 4 ranked football team in the nation and think you can win is quite admirable.

The ORU basketball team has long been considered the Biblical David going against the giants of NCAA basketball, and on many occasions over the years, the underdog came away victorious. Big time wins for the Golden Eagles have included the win at Kansas in 2006, beating Oklahoma State in 2007, and defeating Stanford, Missouri and New Mexico all in the 2009 season.

However, Tulsa’s football team playing at Ohio State is on a totally different level than the basketball matchups I referred to. All last week, the sound bites coming from the TU football team were all positive and mentioned how the team was preparing to win at Ohio State, and not just try to look good or come away with some “moral victory.”

That’s the way it should be. Every team should go into every game with the attitude of wanting to win; regardless of any mismatch of talent level. If you’re not playing to win, then why play?

Well, sometimes there are other reasons; like a big financial guarantee, to impress future recruits with the type of schedule you play, and it gives your players an opportunity to play a higher level of competition.

Like the season when ORU’s basketball program was making its way back into the NCAA Division I level after being in the NAIA for two years. It was December 1991 and I was doing the ORU radio play-by-play. We went to California to play at UCLA. Now nobody in their right mind would have thought ORU had a chance to beat that Jim Harrick-coached Bruins team. Not even Oral himself could have expected that miracle.

Head coach Ken Trickey was very matter of fact about the whole thing. He knew his team needed games, and nobody wanted to come to ORU to play a team that was just coming out of the NAIA. In fact, that season, two-thirds of the Golden Eagles’ games were road games. So, playing UCLA was an opportunity to put a feather in the ORU competition cap, and the coaching cap of Trickey. It also gave the ORU players a chance to see “how the other half lives,” so to speak. How college basketball is done at the big time programs. This was only a week after ORU had played at Oregon and Oregon State.

There was John Wooden himself sitting in the front row of the seats right behind the scorers table. Pauley Pavilion was packed as if UCLA was taking on USC, but the Bruins drew well every game, it didn’t matter who the opponent was, and in the end, UCLA crushed ORU by 51 points, 113-62.

Last Saturday Tulsa lost in Columbus to Ohio State, 48-3, but it wasn’t all bad. The Golden Hurricane defense played very well, holding OSU to only 20 points in the first half. However, the TU offense was terrible with four turnovers in the first half alone.

In fact, Tulsa’s four turnovers resulted in 17 of the Buckeyes’ points in the first half, and that included two touchdowns scored by the OSU defense.

A torrential downpour blew into the stadium just before halftime, soaking the 104,410 fans in attendance. The start of the second half was delayed 70 minutes due to lightning.

Ohio State managed to score four touchdowns in the second half, but that was still due in part to a very poor Tulsa offense. The Golden Hurricane couldn’t keep the ball long enough to even give their defensive unit a break, let alone gain much yardage on offense.

With that being said, Ohio State, which totaled 776 yards of offense the week before, was held by the Golden Hurricane defense to 417 total yards. TU managed only 188 yards on offense, including 127 yards passing and 61 yards rushing.

While watching the game, I still wondered if there was any hint of reality in the back of the Tulsa football team’s mind going into this game. Or, if not prior to the game, when does that reality soak in?

Maybe reality set in right on the first Golden Hurricane play from scrimmage, as quarterback Dane Evans’ pass bounced off the hands of Keevan Lucas and was caught by Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore at the Tulsa 16-yard line. Some Tulsa players had to be thinking, “Wow, right off the bat. This is not going to be our day.” However, the TU defense held the Buckeyes to a 29-yard field goal.

Or maybe reality set in when Evans threw his second interception or his third, or fourth. But maybe still, some failed to give in to the thought of losing and reality didn’t ever hit them until the final horn went off to end the game.

Whenever it was that they realized it, the reality was that it would have taken nothing short of a miracle to come away with a victory in Columbus last week. Tulsa did play in front of the largest crowd ever to watch a TU football game, TU will receive a huge check from the national broadcast of the game, and their players had a great opportunity to test their skills against those at a higher level. Besides, when head coach Phillip Montgomery sits down with a recruit in his living he can say, “We play teams like Memphis, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Ohio State, just to name a few.”

Tulsa (1-1) will be home this Saturday to host North Carolina A&T with a 1 p.m. kickoff. Tulsa truly has a realistic chance in this one and should add another non-conference win to the team’s record.