Two weeks already down in the 2014 season, two weeks without a win for Tulane.
Week 1 ended with the Green Wave suffering a thrilling double-overtime loss to Tulsa — a game Tulane lead at half-time, 21-14. Against Georgia Tech last Saturday, Tulane had another 21-point first-half performance, but a failed fourth-down attempt on its own 44 with 21 seconds left in the half allowed Georgia Tech to kick a go-ahead field goal as time expired. The Yellow Jackets turned their three-point halftime lead into a 38-21 win, spoiling Tulane’s christening of brand-new Yulman Stadium.
So why aren’t the Green Wave switching second-quarter leads into wins?
Before giving Tulane’s 0-2 start an MRI, let’s note some positives from the team’s first two weeks on the field.
- The offense is averaging 421 yards in its two games, ranking fourth in the AAC (Cincinnati hasn’t played a game). Tulane is averaging 246 yards through the air, up from its 185 yard average in 2013.
- Tulane ranks third in the AAC in rushing offense with 175 yards per game, even though the Green Wave have 15 less carries than second-ranked South Florida and 39 less carries than top-ranked Memphis.
- The defense is resembling the opportunistic 2013 group, recovering two fumbles and snagging three interceptions (tied for first in the AAC).
- Limited against Georgia Tech, Sherman Badie showed big-play potential against Tulsa. The redshirt freshman running back had over 200 yards rushing in the first game, including a 90-yard scamper to the end zone.
- Twenty-two players, four against Georgia Tech, have made their first collegiate starts in 2014. Fielding a young team is often a balance of positives and negatives. The positive impact for a team playing young players is the boost in experience the young guys get from seeing the field early, which Tulane hopes will be an advantage when it tastes the meat of its conference schedule. We’ll delve into the negative impact of fielding a young team during our diagnosis
The Green Wave have plenty of positives to take away from the first two weeks. The offense has improved from last year and the young talent coach Curtis Johnson lured to New Orleans the last couple of years is receiving valuable experience. But productivity or improvement means very little if the wins aren’t popping up. Time to take a deeper look at the problems that have led Tulane to an unhealthy start.
- Freshman quarterback Tanner Lee has thrown four interceptions on the young season and fumbled against Tulsa. The Yellow Jackets made Lee pay dearly for the three INTs he tossed in Saturday’s game by scoring 21 of their 38 points off the turnovers (one touchdown was a pick-six)
- The offense has a 57 percent red zone scoring efficiency rating; ranking eighth among the 10 AAC members that have played at least one game.
- The Green Wave defense had its own struggles in the red zone, allowing Tulsa and Georgia Tech to score 62 percent of the time they reached the 20.
- The defense, while opportunistic, is already disclosing signs of a rebuilding unit. Tulane allowed 438 yards passing against Tulsa and made its passing game look unstoppable in the second half. Playing Georgia Tech and its triple-option offense in Week 2 gave the pass defense an automatic lift in the stat column, but the rushing defense took a major dive against the Jackets, giving up 344 yards on the ground and allowing Georgia Tech to run the final 6:25 off the clock to seal the win.
- To make the Tulane defense sound even more offensive, its given up more third-down conversations than any other AAC team.
- Freshman place-kicker Andrew DiRocco is 1-for-3 on field goal attempts, and the Green Wave had a punt blocked in the fourth quarter of the Georgia Tech game.
- Now for the negative impact of fielding a young team: inexperience equals mistakes, and plenty of them.
With more problems than positive reactions listed from the first two weeks, it’s easier to see how the Green Wave arrived at 0-2. The treatment plan for righting the ship in time to make a bowl is no quick fix, especially with so many young faces at key positions.
Defensively, the Green Wave must become more consistent. Playing Georgia Tech’s run, run, run triple-option skewed Tulane’s rushing defensive statistics a wide margin. However, defending the triple-option isn’t a valid excuse for why a defensive unit allowed its opponent to melt more than six minutes off the clock. Stopping the Jackets a couple of times in the last part of the fourth quarter may have opened the door for the offense to get back in the game.
Special teams needs to be better; in all facets of the game. DiRocco is another young player who needs to find his footing — literally. Allowing blocked punts is unacceptable for any bowl-aspiring team. Special teams mishaps can far too often change the outcome of a game.
The major concern on offense — clearly the team’s overall best unit — is the play of Tanner Lee. Lee is young and inexperienced, and what did we say about inexperience earlier? Lee will learn from the early playing-time he is getting, but Tulane may not have much time for its quarterback to learn from his mistakes if it hopes to build off last season.
Lee can’t continue to throw crucial interceptions. His lone INT against Tulsa ended his teams tying over-time drive, while his three passes to Yellow Jacket defenders shifted momentum and set up Georgia Tech scoring drives.
If Lee has a rough game against FCS Southeastern Louisiana this Saturday, Johnson should strongly consider starting backup Devin Powell in the Green Wave’s game against Duke.
Although this doesn’t pertain to a particular team unit, Tanner Lee and Sherman Badie’s early exits from last Saturdays game raise concerns, at least eyebrows. Johnson said in his press-conference following the Georgia Tech game that the two players contracted “heat” related injuries, but he never gave an official diagnosis.
Was it dehydration? mild heatstroke? Sunburn, even?
The temperature was 90 degrees (not including heat index) by the time the Georgia Tech game kicked off. Very hot, but nothing college players going to school in the south aren’t used to. Maybe Johnson needs to have his best players better prepared for the normal, hot, sometimes uncomfortable, New Orleans heat.
Tulane has much little time to treat the issues brought to light in the first two weeks. North Dakota State’s destruction of Iowa State in Week 1, and Eastern Washington’s near miss at Washington last Saturday showed that the top FCS teams can compete.
Tulane is officially on upset alert — doctor’s orders.