East Carolina standout freshman receiver C.J. Johnson and Tulsa cornerback Allie Green IV were seen grappling with each other on the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium field early in the second quarter Saturday with the Pirates already facing a double-digit deficit and trying to find their rhythm on offense. Both players were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Green shoving his hands to Johnson’s face, again after a play, during the third quarter created another 15-yard penalty by Green — this time a personal foul — as part of one of the most intriguing matchups within Tulsa’s 49-24 rout at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Tulsa’s overall effectiveness on offense led its charge, and for the Pirates, bright spots on offense included Johnson’s 141 yards and a touchdown. But all of ECU’s touchdowns came after halftime and after trailing 28-3 during the third quarter.
“We couldn’t get the ball rolling and there was no rhythm offensively in the first half,” senior center Branden Pena said. “We had a little bit of spark at times, but you have to be rhythmic the whole game if you want to win. Going into the game, I thought we were prepared and were highly motivated, but I couldn’t tell you or put my finger on one thing. It just happened.”
Johnson was locked in plenty of 1-on-1 battles down the field, including the next play after he and Green were initially flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, for his yardage Saturday to give him a season total of 908 yards. Tyler Snead had 759.
ECU (4-8, 1-7 American Athletic Conference) did not have a 1,000-yard receiver this season, stopping its nation-best streak of seven years of having one dating back to Justin Hardy in 2012.
Green is 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, starting on the opposite side of 6-1 corner Reggie Robinson, who came into the game tied for the AAC lead with four interceptions.
Safety Brandon Johnson was trailing C.J. Johnson for Johnson’s 35-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
ECU’s starting receivers again were Johnson, Snead and Blake Proehl. Johnson and Snead are freshmen, and Proehl caught eight passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns in the final game of his sophomore season.
The announced crowd of 27,978 two days after Thanksgiving was ECU’s lowest for a home contest this season and the lowest at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium since last season’s home finale of 27,234 for ECU versus Connecticut.
The Pirates finished this year with an average home attendance of 33,134, compared to last year’s mark of 32,908.
Conditions were rainy during the final few hours leading up to the noon kickoff. The rain stopped and turned to overcast skies during the afternoon, but most of the sections inside of the stadium were still empty. Announced attendance is based on total number of tickets sold, not the number of people who actually attended the game.
Shamari Brooks did not score a rushing touchdown for Tulsa, but he did finish with a game-high 202 yards on 16 carries.
Running backs TK Wilkerson and Corey Taylor each found the end zone for the Golden Hurricane, which was almost completely balanced with 338 rushing yards and 331 passing. Tulsa (4-8, 2-6) out-rushed the hosts, 338-75.
One week after a 24-14 loss to Houston for a Hurricane team that suffered a four-game losing streak during the middle portion of its season, coach Philip Montgomery said running lanes fueled his team’s prolific offensive attack versus the Pirates.
“This is the way our offense is meant to play, and when we’re effective running the football, it opens up everything,” Montgomery said.