You’re probably not going to guess who set the record for most consecutive games with a kickoff return for a touchdown.
Tyler Lockett? Nope. Ted Ginn, Jr.? Wrong again. Rocket Ismail? Good try, but no.
The correct answer: Ashlan Davis, a 5’8 junior college transfer who housed a kick return four weeks in a row for the 2004 Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
The reason why you might not remember Davis is, ironically, one of the keys to his success: Tulsa was a considerable mess on defense, allowing 35.5 points to FBS opponents and finishing 4-8 in Steve Kragthorpe’s second year. With a handful of notable exceptions, 4-8 teams don’t tend to stick in our brains for very long. But this one did it with a defense that, if nothing else, gave the special teams unit plenty of kick return opportunities.
Tulsa also stumbled considerably before Davis began his record streak. The Golden Hurricane started the year with an 18-point loss to Kansas, got shut out by Navy in their home opener, and lost to Hawaii by four touchdowns. If you tuned in to watch 1-4 Tulsa host undefeated Boise State on October 16, 2004, you were either curious about the upstart Broncos or alarmingly devoted to the cause of the Golden Hurricane.
Whatever their reasons, that crowd bore witness to the beginning of a historic effort when Davis ran back a kick for 100 yards and a score in the second quarter. They also saw Tulsa lose again – albeit much more competitively than they had been – as Boise kicked the winning field goal with ten seconds to play.
The next week, Davis ran back a kickoff 94 yards in the fourth quarter to pull Tulsa into a tie with Nevada, but the Wolf Pack still won in triple overtime. The week after that, Davis scored on an 83-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter against Rice … AND TULSA GOT THEIR SECOND WIN OF THE YEAR YEAHHHHHHH.
That third consecutive game with a kickoff score put Davis in the record book, tied with Stan Brown, who’d pulled off this feat for Purdue in 1970. And the most impressive part of Davis’s streak was he’d only needed nine total kick returns to do it – five against Boise, two against Nevada, and two more in the Rice game. Those three Tulsa opponents had kicked off far more than that (21 times, in fact), but touchbacks and teammates accounted for the opportunities that didn’t go to Davis.
To hold the record alone, Davis needed to run one back against Tulsa’s next opponent, SMU. He took the opening kickoff a mere 18 yards. Return number two went for 30, and the third for 21. But on his fourth try, Davis broke loose for a 96-yard touchdown, signing his name into history with a flourish.
And Tulsa still lost in overtime, as SMU scored more points against the Golden Hurricane than they had in their last four games combined.
In the 2019 season, FBS teams returned 3,729 kicks. They shepherded 53 of those (1.4%) back into the end zone for touchdowns. In his four-game stretch, Davis returned 14 kickoffs and scored on 28.5% of them. It was an astounding feat, obscured by a lousy team record and a necessarily weak defense.
This was the paradox for Davis: A better defense probably would have gotten Tulsa more wins in these close games, but it would have meant fewer kick return chances. Most other records set by a ball carrier can benefit from stout defense, and that’s impossible with kickoff returns. Only one chance, the opponent’s kickoff at the start of one of the halves, is guaranteed in a given game. Anything more is going to require a defense to fail.
Oh, and here’s the weirdest thing. The return that set the record isn’t even the wildest kickoff score in Tulsa-SMU history.