By Brandon Speck
MEMPHIS -- Tulsa had four months to think about its worst loss of the season.
A lot happened since the Golden Hurricane lost a 15-point decision at Iowa State in the season-opener.
Things went a lot better the rest of the way for the Conference USA champion. It stayed that way Monday night at chilly Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
The Golden Hurricane (11-3) overcame a slow start and held Iowa State without a score for the final three quarters in a 31-17 win in front of 53,687 Iowa State-dominated fans in the 54th Annual Auto Zone Liberty Bowl. Tulsa scored the final 24 points of the game.
"I'm very proud of the way these guys finished," Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. "Our guys adjusted. We're playing our best football right now. That's what you want."
It was a role reversal from the first meeting. Iowa State won then by scoring 24 straight after falling behind. Tulsa did it Monday for its first bowl win over a BCS team.
Alex Singleton had one rushing yard in the first meeting. The senior had three short touchdowns Monday. Tulsa responded to a 17-point Iowa State first quarter by rattling off the only two touchdowns of the second.
Trey Watts had 125 yards in the first meeting. Monday he had key runs at key times, finished with 156 yards on 25 carries and MVP honors.
"We never wavered," Watts said, "not for a second. We made a mistake, knew we had to rally and stick with the gameplan."
Watts took the opening run of the fourth quarter 19 yards to the 25 and Daniel Schwarz kicked a 40-yard field goal for a 31-17 lead. The Cyclones (6-7) had only four first downs after the first quarter.
Tulsa outgained Iowa State 410-268. The Cyclones were 2 of 14 on third down.
A gamble paid off in the third quarter for Tulsa. Watts took a third-and-3 48 yards to the Iowa State 21 yard line and a personal foul on Iowa State's Cleyon Laing helped Tulsa to the 8 for a first-and-goal. On fourth-and-goal at the 1, Singleton bulled his 260-pound frame into the end zone for a 28-17 lead. Singleton scored three rushing touchdowns for the fourth time this season.
Tulsa had three turnovers in the first meeting on Sept. 1, one Monday.
"We came ready to play, then were outplayed for the next 45 minutes.
We'll have to analyze that, then try to come up with answers," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "I thought we lacked energy in the second quarter."
Rhoads said freshman quarterback Sam Richardson was battling the flu bug. He finished 10 of 21 for 129 yards and was sacked three times.
It's the second 11-win season for Tulsa. The Cyclones stumbled to a
6-7 record and won only one game since October.
Iowa State was without All-Big 12 linebacker Jake Knott, recovering from shoulder surgery. Tulsa came to Memphis averaging 240 rushing yards per game and had 317 on 60 carries in the win.
"When you have them down, you can't let them up," Watts said. "We kept moving the ball and our defense kept getting stop after stop. Our offensive line, I've got to give them a shoutout. When they block like that, it's hard to beat us."
Rain spotted the first half. Edwin Arceo's 33 yard field goal was the first score of the game. Jeremy Reeves' pick-6 made it 10-0.
Tulsa quarterback Cody Green led a 75-yard scoring drive that saw Singleton dive over the goal line from two yards out to get Tulsa on the board. It took Iowa State only two plays to match the score as Richardson hit Ernst Brun on a 69-yard touchdown.
Shawn Jackson had back-to-back sacks of Richardson on the Cyclones next possession that sent them back to their own 9. After a 42-yard punt, Green capped a four-play drive with an 8-yard touchdown. Tulsa stopped Iowa State with a three-and-out and watched Green throw three straight completions before Singleton scored another two-yard touchdown.
Watts had a 12-yard gain on the scoring drive. He spun past one would-be tackler and fought to the 2 before his team took a 21-17 lead.
"It was a big deal because they had been moving the football,"
Blankenship said of the sacks. "The big thing was the whole field position changed. We were able to get off the field on defense and put some drives together."
Tulsa leading tackler DeAndre Brown went out after the first series with an injury. Jackson finished with nine tackles and two sacks.
"It didn't end like I wanted it to," said Cyclones senior A.J. Klein, who had had 19 tackles. "The loss is a huge letdown. We had 25,000-plus fans and wanted to win for them but things don't always work out. A lot of missed tackled, a lot of missed assignments. They were ready for us."
Tulsa thwarted another Iowa State scoring attempt in the second quarter, thanks in part to a Derrick Jackson sack at the 23. It was Tulsa's 51st sack of the season. Arceo missed a 34-yarder a play later.