Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Tulsa: 2012 Liberty Bowl Champions

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Iowa State scored on Edwin Arceo's 33-yard field goal, Jeremy Reeves' 31-yard interception return and Ernst Brun's 69-yard reception of a Sam B. Richardson pass. 

All of that occurred during the first quarter of Monday's AutoZone Liberty Bowl, and Iowa State surged to a double-digit lead. 

After that, the University of Tulsa defense dominated the afternoon. 

On 11 offensive possessions after surging to a 10-point advantage, the Cyclones punted seven times, had two passes intercepted (one each by safety Marco Nelson and cornerback Dexter McCoil), lost a fumble (recovered by TU defensive end Brentom Todd) and missed a field goal. 

During the final three quarters, Iowa State was scoreless while mustering only 133 yards. TU countered with a 317-yard ground game and rolled to a 31-17 victory over the Cyclones. 

Voted the game's most valuable player, Hurricane junior tailback Trey Watts rushed for 149 yards. Tailback Alex Singleton, one of 18 seniors playing for the final time in TU blue, ran for three touchdowns - extending his program-record, single-season total to 24. 

Alluding to the combination of Tulsa's defense and a run game that averaged 5.3 yards per attempt, quarterback Cody Green said, "This was the perfect game for us." 

Green scored on an 8-yard keeper as the Golden Hurricane ended a streak of 16 consecutive losses to Big 12 opponents (a streak that included this season's opening-day defeat at Iowa State). 

At 11-3, the 2012 Hurricane is only the second team in program history to have reached the 11-win mark. However, the 2008 TU squad was not the Conference USA champion. The 2012 Hurricane captured two significant trophies - one for winning the C-USA title and one for conquering Iowa State. 

"This is a group that bought in. They pulled together and believed in each other," TU coach Bill Blankenship said. "They wanted to be coached. It was really cool. 

"I think a game like this shows that we can play with people across the country. We're going to graduate 18 great seniors, but we've been able to redshirt two classes behind them. I think we're going to be good in the future." 

During the second half of the Liberty Bowl, the Cyclone offense never crossed midfield. TU's defense recorded five sacks - pushing its school-record 2012 total to an astounding 53 - and Iowa State was 2-of-14 on third-down conversions. 

The Cyclones, scheduled to visit TU's Chapman Stadium next September, finished with a 6-7 record. 

"We came ready to play, obviously, by the way we started the game," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "And then we were outplayed for the next 45 minutes." 

In games in which opponents score more than 24 points, the Rhoads-coached Cyclones are 1-23. 

The Hurricane was reeling after the Reeves interception return gave Iowa State a 10-0 cushion. Tulsa countered with a 75-yard drive that included Ja'Terian Douglas' runs of 17 and 12 yards, a Green 12-yarder and Singleton's 2-yard TD dive behind left guard Jake Alexander. 

"We drove the length of the field," Blankenship said. "(The Hurricane offense) needed to answer when things weren't looking good." 

Iowa State responded almost immediately, capitalizing on a Hurricane coverage failure and converting on the Richardson-to-Brun pass for 69 yards and a 17-7 difference. The 25,000 Iowa State fans in attendance cheered and danced. 

"We never wavered. Not for a second," Watts said. "We knew we made a mistake and gave (the Cyclones) a touchdown, but we knew we just had to rally. Just keep playing. Stick to our game plan." 

From that point, 7,000 TU fans did most of the cheering and all of the dancing. 

Within a span of 3 1/2 minutes, Tulsa got touchdowns from Green and Singleton. 

When halftime arrived, the Hurricane held a 21-17 lead. 

When halftime ended, the real misery began for the Iowa State offense. 

During the second half, the Cyclones had more turnovers (three) than first downs (two). Tulsa has Conference USA's best defense and best offensive line, and Iowa State was overwhelmed by both Monday. 

"That's how we became champions," Hurricane defensive coordinator Brent Guy said. "That's how we won the game today." 

Original Print Headline: A bellwether win

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