TULSA -- Arkansas State University needed three weeks to punch one in.
The Red Wolves' record seven passing touchdowns in Week 1 were enough to defeat Southeast Missouri State. No rushing touchdowns were needed.
ASU managed one touchdown in the air in Week 2 at Alabama, but no rushing touchdowns were allowed.
In Week 3 against Tulsa, ASU's first two rushing touchdowns of the season helped the Red Wolves secure a 29-20 victory Saturday night at H.A. Chapman Stadium for their first nonconference road victory since 2008.
A three-headed crew of running backs and quarterback Justice Hansen's legs soured the Golden Hurricane's defense with a season-high 214 rushing yards.
"We played more of a complete game than we have at any point up to now," ASU Coach Blake Anderson said. "It's a lot to build on."
The Red Wolves' offense often faced a three-man rush from a Tulsa defense that sacrificed a pass rush for numbers in the secondary.
Tulsa's disguise-riddled defense was expected to put extra pressure on Hansen, whose job was to decipher how Tulsa's defense aligned to defend ASU.
The Golden Hurricane's light pass rush came. Hansen had time. Arkansas State's running backs were given holes, and the Red Wolves punished Tulsa, which scored 13 unanswered points in the second half to cut a 27-7 ASU lead to 27-20 on Nathan Walker's 38-yard field goal with 11:13 remaining.
A safety by ASU junior defensive lineman Kevin Thurmon with 7:56 to go set the final score.
"From the beginning, we just started off with a lot of juice," Thurmon said. "Normally, some games, we start off kind of dead and then we have to come back at halftime and try to start picking it up. This game, we just started off with the juice."
The Red Wolves rolled up 246 yards in the first half and 405 overall, including 191 through the air from Hansen and another 80 rushing yards. Senior tailbacks Warren Wand, Armond Weh-Weh and Marcel Murray combined for 138 yards on 33 carries.
"That's something we desperately needed to do and do well," Anderson said.
Murray's second-quarter rushing touchdown was the first of his career and the first by ASU this season, giving the Red Wolves the lead for good at 10-7 with 4:33 left in the first half.
"Coming into the game, that was our game plan, to run the ball more with all three running backs," Murray said.
Hansen completed 20 of 33 passes against Tulsa, which prioritized stopping him and the ASU passing game instead of its three-man backfield.
"He never put the ball in harm's way today," Anderson said of Hansen.
On the other end, Arkansas State's defense caused problems for the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa gained 339 yards Saturday after averaging 411.5 yards through its first two games, and its average of 5.96 yards per play for the season paled next to its 4.13 yards per play against ASU.
"I think our defense was ballin' tonight," Thurmon said.
Hansen fumbled on ASU's opening possession, fueling the Golden Hurricane's 13-play, 62-yard drive that was topped with a 1-yard touchdown by tailback Corey Taylor.
The Red Wolves' defense responded. Two fumble recoveries and an interception returned for by a touchdown by sophomore safety Demari Medley -- a fill-in for injured starting free safety B.J. Edmonds (sprained foot) -- threw Tulsa off kilter.
Hansen scored on an 18-yard rushing touchdown, ASU's second of the season, after the Golden Hurricane fumbled on their first offensive play in the second half. Medley's 53-yard interception return on Tulsa's second possession put the Red Wolves ahead 27-7 with 10:25 left in the third quarter.
Tulsa nearly turned the game around in the final 20 minutes, but ASU held on for its first nonconference road victory in a decade.
"We were on a losing streak in that category for a while now," Hansen said. "Now we've got our first win, so I just think it's great for the program."
Tulsa amassed nearly 200 yards in the third quarter. Golden Hurricane quarterback Luke Skipper hit tight end Cole Neph on a 10-yard rollout touchdown pass three seconds into the fourth quarter to cut ASU's lead to 27-17.
With ASU ahead 27-20 after Tulsa's fourth-quarter field goal, Thurmon's safety made it a two-possession game again.
"We definitely needed something to switch the momentum," Thurmon said. "The way it was going, we started to get dead on our side because they were starting to catch up. We definitely switched the momentum with that play."
Sports on 09/16/2018
Print Headline: Red Wolves in rush for elusive road win