Dane Evans looked like a different quarterback in Tulsa’s season-opening win over Tulane.
As a result, Tulsa got different results. The Golden Hurricane introduced themselves to the American Athletic Conference with a 38-31 double-overtime win over the Green Wave last week.
Tulsa struggled with its passing game during last year’s 4-8 campaign, but Evans passed for 438 yards against Tulane to fuel the comeback victory. Evans, who threw just four touchdown passes to 10 interceptions last season, matched last season’s touchdown total in the opener.
Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said Evans took his shaky freshman season personally.
“No one outworked him from January on, no one on our team, and we have a great work ethic on this team,” Blankenship said. “So I’m not putting anybody down. I’m just telling you nobody outworked him. Nobody took last year any harder than he did.”
Blankenship believes Evans can have success again Saturday, when Tulsa hosts No. 4 Oklahoma.
“The things that he has developed are a quick release and the ability to see the field,” Blankenship said. “If he will again, do those things, I think you’ll see that he’ll give us a chance to move the football.”
Tulsa opened up the offense in its first game with Denver Johnson as offensive coordinator. Even though it took two overtimes, the Golden Hurricane scored more points and gained more yards against Tulane than in any game last season. Blankenship believes more is in store.
“That’s what we’ve been seeing in practice,” he said. “We think we’re moving in the right direction.”
Evans’ receivers made plenty of plays in the opener. Keevan Lucas caught 13 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns and was named American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Keyarris Garrett, back after missing most of last season with a broken leg, caught five passes for 87 yards, and Josh Atkinson caught seven passes for 80 yards. Conner Floyd caught the game-winner, an 8-yard pass from Evans, in the second overtime.
Garrett and Lucas have Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops’ attention.
“Garrett — good, strong body, good presence and great quickness,” Stoops said. “With the other guy (Lucas), you can see they try to get him the ball even in the backfield, you know, tossing it to him, or however they do it, really quick. You can tell they try to get him a lot of touches. Really good players.”
Though the Golden Hurricane felt good about the passing attack in the win over Tulane, they face a much different challenge in Oklahoma. Led by preseason All-Big 12 cornerback Zack Sanchez, the Sooners boast a strong secondary that allowed just 191 yards passing in its season-opening win over Louisiana Tech.
“Oklahoma’s not Tulane,” Blankenship said. “They’re a little better. But I also feel very proud, very confident in our receiving corps. I think those guys have the ability to make some plays.”
Blankenship said Tulsa’s focus has to be on Tulsa instead of getting caught up in the Sooners’ ranking or the fact that Oklahoma is an in-state team.
“If we focus on Oklahoma, then we step right into the trap that most people do when they play Oklahoma,” he said. “We’ve got to be about Tulsa. And if we execute — offense, defense, special teams — we can make it very difficult on them. If we don’t execute, they are good enough to take advantage of every mistake that we make. We don’t need to forfeit our opportunity to win by giving it away.”