Football

Tulsa puts on offensive show to rout Central Michigan in Miami Beach Bowl

Tulsa wide receiver Josh Atkinson, center, celebrates in the end zone after his touchdown in the first half. Tulsa played against Central Michigan on Mon., Dec. 19, 2016 during the Miami Beach Bowl at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida.
Tulsa wide receiver Josh Atkinson, center, celebrates in the end zone after his touchdown in the first half. Tulsa played against Central Michigan on Mon., Dec. 19, 2016 during the Miami Beach Bowl at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida. cjuste@miamiherald.com

The football field fits awkwardly into Marlins Park, but the football played in the first two Miami Beach Bowls games fit by being as trendy, flashy and thrilling as Miami Beach’s international image.

Monday’s Miami Beach Bowl, on the other hand, quickly turned into a historic blasting.

Tulsa’s Golden Hurricane treated Central Michigan like some other Hurricanes used to treat Central Michigans back when the Orange Bowl sat on this site. Eight scores in their first eight drives and a defensive touchdown added up to a 55-10 annihilation of the Chippewas.

No dances or taunts but Tulsa (10-3) clearly wanted to get its 10th win in a style that commanded attention.

“I definitely feel we’re a much better team than what we’ve gotten credit for this season,” said Tulsa wide receiver Keevan Lucas after his three touchdown catches. “But those are things that are out of our control.”

In their control Monday: everything.

The air: Quarterback Dane Evans, the game MVP, threw for five touchdowns and 304 yards on 28-of-38 passing. The ground: D’Angelo Brewer ran for 105 yards and James Flanders ran for 101 yards, each on 17 carries. The other side of the ball: Tulsa’s defense reached the end zone before they allowed Central Michigan to do so. Defensive tackle Jesse Brubaker leaped to interrupt as much as intercept Cooper Rush’s short rollout pass and returned it 66 yards.

“The only phase we probably won was the kicking game,” said Central Michigan coach John Bonamego, the Dolphins’ special teams coordinator from 2008-10. “But, obviously, they didn’t punt one time the whole game.”

As Bonamego said, the Chippewas (6-7) couldn’t finish drives. Corey Willis appeared to have one catch long enough to count as a touchdown before he lost control, but it was ruled incomplete. A 27-yard Rush scramble inside the Tulsa 1 got wiped out by a block-in-the-back penalty committed on a defender running away from the play.

Rush completed only 24 of 49 for 241 yards and threw three interceptions. He ended 11 yards short of the Mid-America Conference career record for passing yards.

The Golden Hurricane came out firing with their phasers on “kill.” The first string offense never stopped going deep, never stopped gorging itself.

Up 27-3 in the third quarter, Tulsa took a Central Michigan offside penalty and a successful field goal off the board to go for a fourth-and-2 from the Chippewas’ 17. James Flanders rumbled through a hole for the first down, picked up a defender at the 3-yard-line and barged into the end zone with two defenders on his back.

“We have wristbands that say, ‘Tulsa vs. Everybody.’ That’s how we feel, no matter who we’re going up against,” Tulsa wide receiver Josh Atkinson said. “No matter where we’re playing. We know we’re fighting for respect. To come out here and do the things we did today, I feel like it was icing on the cake. Being able to put a statement out there that Tulsa football is here to play.”

Evans worked wide receiver Josh Atkinson early, and Atkinson wound up with 12 catches for 131 yards. That made Tulsa the first team in FBS history with a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard rushers and two 1,000-yard wide receivers.

“When did they start playing football? The 1800s, late 1800s?” Evans said. “Obviously, they didn’t throw the ball then. But this is the first time in NCAA history that’s happened. That’s pretty cool. Imagine we’d won five games combined in the two seasons before Coach [Philip Montgomery] got here. Now, we’ve got guys going into NCAA history.”

Some school history, too, with historic football names. Lucas’ three touchdown catches put him at 32 for his career, tying the Tulsa record held by pro football Hall of Famer Steve Largent and 1970s Dolphins possession receiver Howard Twilley.

Evans said, “Being a kid, playing baseball all my life, I always dreamed I’d get to play in a big-league stadium. Didn’t know it would be football. [Sunday] when we came here, I definitely rounded the bases on a home-run trot. I feel like this game was a home-run trot. We just went out and took care of business.”

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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