NEW ORLEANS - In his tenure at Tulane, four lopsided losses against Tulsa may have been the biggest thorns stuck in the side of coach Bob Toledo.
A rival in Conference USA’s Western Division, Tulsa has won the four contests since Toledo’s arrival by an average margin of more than 31 points.
So it’s no wonder Toledo and his players see Saturday’s contest against Tulsa (0-1) at 2:30 p.m. in the Superdome as more than a typical C-USA opener. To them, it provides a critical chance to show how far Tulane’s program has progressed.
“This game will give us a pretty good indication of how far we’ve come,” Toledo said. “We can win the game and it would be great. But the big question is how far have we come and where we’re at. This would be a great gauge for us.”
After surrendering 419 yards in a 47-33 win over Southeastern Louisiana, Tulane’s defense is under particular scrutiny facing Tulsa’s high-powered attack, which has racked up point totals of 49, 56, 37 and 52 against Toledo’s previous defenses.
Featuring a no-huddle, shotgun-based spread offense, loaded with a variety of speedy playmakers, Tulsa seems to create explosive plays at will.
Tulsa also has a powerful interior running game, but Toledo said it’s the big bursts that have broken Tulane’s back. This is why Tulsa’s suspension of former Destrehan standout Damaris Johnson, the NCAA’s all-time leader in all-purpose yardage (7,796), could give Tulane a glimmer of hope.
“Mainly, their speed threat was Damaris Johnson,” Tulane junior linebacker Trent Mackey said. “It’s all a mind game. They give him a few sweeps and he would break them for 30 or 40 yards, and then we start looking for that. Then it opens up lanes for them to run the ball and throw it to other people. Now, with him not being a factor, they won’t be able to spread most defenses out as much.”
Tulane also could be shorthanded, without three of its top safeties: Taylor Echols (concussion), Shakiel Smith (separated shoulder) and Kyle Davis (separated shoulder). It could thrust a pair of freshman, Renaldo Thomas and former St. Thomas More standout Sam Scofield, into their first significant college snaps.
Where the Wave has experience is in dealing with the Hurricane’s frenetic no-huddle offense, thanks to the frenzied approach SLU employed last week. In just more than 27 minutes of possession, the Lions took 89 snaps (27 more than Tulane) and often caught the Wave off guard as they gashed Tulane for easy yardage.
In the first half, Tulane was plagued by miscommunication, mental errors and general fatigue as the Lions piled up easy first downs - a fate it typically succumbs to against Tulsa.
“We didn’t line up correctly a lot of times and we weren’t ready to play football,” Toledo said. “When you don’t line up and you’re not ready to play, they’re going to knock you off the ball.”
By the second half, Tulane’s defense seemed to catch up with the tempo, and Mackey said this week he feels more prepared for what’s coming.