Tulsa scored 24 consecutive points and the Hurricane defense shut down Iowa State 31-17 to win the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in front of a crowd of 53,687 Monday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
The Golden Hurricane earned its 11th win of the year, marking only the second time in school history it has accomplished that feat. Tulsa's previous 11-win season came in the 2008 campaign. The victory also avenged a season-opening loss against Iowa State (6-7) in Ames, Iowa.
Tulsa (11-3) has won four of its past five bowl games dating back to the 2008 GMAC Bowl, and the victory marked the second time TU has won the Liberty Bowl. Tulsa defeated Fresno State 31-24 in 2005.
Trey Watts earned AutoZone Liberty Bowl Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Game honors as the junior tallied 249 all-purpose yards. Watts, who was also named the Most Valuable Player of the Conference USA Championship Game, rushed 25 times for 149 yards, including a 48-yard scamper that set up Tulsa's fourth touchdown of the day. Watts caught four passes for 17 yards and four kick returns for 83 yards. The Hurricane rushing game was a force not only with Watts, but Ja'Terian Douglas, who tallied eight carries for 79 yards, Alex Singleton with 35 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Cody Green also rushed 10 times for a season-high 58 yards, while completing 11-of-23 passes for 93 yards.
Trailing 17-7 in the first quarter, Tulsa scored its 24 points over the final three quarters giving the Hurricane its seventh comeback victory of the season. While the offense amassed 410 total yards, the Hurricane defense limited Iowa State to 268 yards, including just 64 yards on 20 plays in the second half. Tulsa totaled 208 second-half yards, while dominating the time of possession 21:44 to 8:16.
Tulsa took its first lead of the game at 21-17 with 11:10 remaining in the second quarter and carried that four-point advantage into halftime after the Cyclones jumped out to a 10-0 lead.
Tulsa scored the first points of the second half and the only points of the third quarter at the 1:50 mark, as Singleton rushed for his third touchdown to put the Hurricane ahead 28-17. The scored ended a drought of 24:20 without either team scoring, going back to Tulsa's TD at 11:10 of the second period.
In the third quarter, Tulsa controlled possession of the ball on offense and played dominating defense. Tulsa ran 23 plays for 125 yards for a 5.4 average to Iowa State's nine plays for 17 yards, while holding a 10:36 to 4:24 advantage in possession time.
On its next possession, Tulsa went to the Iowa State 23-yard line where Daniel Schwarz kicked a 40-yard field goal to put the Hurricane ahead by 14 points at 31-17.
Tulsa's defense would not let the Cyclones muster any type late rally as Dexter McCoil snared his fifth interception of the season with 3:55 left in the game to thwart any chance of an Iowa State score. With that pick-off, McCoil, the Tulsa career record-holder for interceptions with 18, tied Anthony Floyd of Louisville (99-02) for the most interceptions in Conference USA history.
Then on Iowa State's final drive, Shawn Jackson, who was named Tulsa's Outstanding Defensive Player, jarred the ball loose from Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz as Brentom Todd recovered it with 1:16 left to seal the victory. Jackson finished the game with two sacks, a forced fumble and nine total tackles.
Iowa State began the game as though it could be a long afternoon for the Hurricane. ISU took the opening kickoff 56 yards in nine plays, as the Hurricane defense held the Cyclones to just a 33-yard field goal. Tulsa's second possession resulted in a 31-yard interception return by the Cyclones' Jeremy Reeves for a 10-0 Iowa State lead just as a light rain began at the Liberty Bowl Stadium.
The Hurricane responded following the turnover for its first score with a 75-yard, nine-play drive that saw Singleton score his 41st career rushing touchdown cutting the Iowa State lead to three points at the 4:47 mark. The Cyclones didn't waste much time scored on a 69-yard touchdown pass from Sam Richardson to Ernst Brun in just 0:55 to go back ahead by 10 points, 17-7, with 3:46 left in the first quarter.
It took Tulsa only 0:57 to make the score 17-14 with 14:33 to play in the second half, as Cody Green ran the final eight yards for the Hurricane touchdown.
Singleton scored his second touchdown of the game on a pitch from the two-yard line to give Tulsa a 21-17 lead with 11:10 remaining in the second quarter, capping a six-play 59-yard drive that started from the Hurricane 41-yard line. The possession started with Green completed three straight passes for 46 yards, while the final 13 yards of the scoring drive came on the ground.
An Iowa State 34-yard field goal attempt with 2:47 remaining in the first half missed wide right keeping Tulsa ahead by four points.
Despite Tulsa's four-point, 21-17, lead at halftime, the Cyclones held a two-yard edge in total offense, 204 to 202 yards. The Hurricane gained 123 yards rushing and 79 yards through the air, while Iowa State had 121 passing yards and 83 rushing yards through the first 30 minutes.