NEW ORLEANS — Winning streaks are rare at Tulane.
The Green Wave has not won consecutive games since 2009 and hasn’t toppled back-to-back FBS opponents since September of 2008. Yet a winning streak is precisely the hottest topic of conversation around the Green Wave (2-6. 2-2 C-USA) right now.
After bouncing back from a dreadful 0-5 start by winning two of its past three games, Tulane is hoping to the harness the momentum into a string of victories. First, the Green Wave must follow its 55-45 win over UAB when it faces Rice (3-6, 1-4) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
It is also Tulane’s homecoming, an occasion which has been marked with grave results recently, losing its past five homecoming games in front of far-flung alumni at the Superdome. But Tulane has already shown a propensity for snapping some nagging streaks this season.
Its 27-26 win over SMU ended a string of 15 straight losses, and its victory over UAB propelled Tulane to 2-2 in C-USA play, its best record through four league games since 2002.
While those occasions may not shine at many other football programs, they are significant signs of progress for the Wave under first-year coach Curtis Johnson. A win would also keep alive Tulane’s razor-thin bowl hopes, needing to run the table in remaining games against Memphis (1-7), East Carolina (5-4) and Houston (4-4).
But any talk of appearing in the postseason for the first time since 2002 is premature, said several Tulane players, who are simply hoping to knock off the Owls (3-6, 1-4) today and keep momentum on their side.
“Every win is important,” offensive lineman Adam Skidmore said. “Winning back-to-back would be a great feeling. We haven’t won a homecoming game since 2006. To win a homecoming game would be awesome.
“Of course, that’s what you want. You want to win them all, but that’s easier said than done. Winning back-to-back games, especially a homecoming game, would be huge for us.”
Much of the responsibility will fall on Tulane’s defense, which failed to contain UAB last week, allowing the Blazers to rack up 622 yards of offense and 7.7 yards per play. A record-setting performance by Green Wave quarterback Ryan Griffin preserved the victory despite the lackluster defensive outing.
Johnson pinned the Blazers’ staggering statistics on a series of injuries and inexperienced youth being forced onto the field. Freshmen and sophomores currently fill 14 of Tulane’s 22 defensive slots on the depth chart.
“I’ve got three true freshmen starting in the secondary,” Johnson said. “If I was in the NFL and you say three rookies were starting, I’d throw at all of them all day long. But they’ve been great. Lorenzo Doss had two picks (last) game. These young kids — a lot of freshmen and redshirt freshmen — are playing. What’s happening to our defense is, we’re starting to get banged up. We’re starting to get hurt. In that last game, there was a couple of series where it was one guy after another after another after another. In football, once you begin to get injured in those positions, it gets hard to come back during the season.”
Saturday, Tulane faces the challenge of slowing down Rice’s dual-threat quarterback, Taylor McHargue, who leads the Owls in rushing and passing, combining for 17 touchdowns this season. Rice has averaged 34 points in its past three games, including a 44-17 thumping of Southern Miss last week.
“Defensively, we have to watch our cues and wait for our times to come,” Johnson said. “If I’m going to sit here and tell you they won’t score any points or gain any yards, that would be the best thing in the world, but they may. We have to keep (McHargue) off balance a little bit. He’s to them what Ryan Griffin is to us. He’s their guy. He will move the ball. He’ll do some things. We’ve got a couple of wrinkles in and, knock on wood, they’ll work out well for us. I think our defense will be up for the challenge.”
If Tulane’s defense falters, the Wave will once again rely on Griffin. The top-rated passer in C-USA (165.7 efficiency rating) completed passes to eight different receivers last week and gains another target with the return of starting receiver Justyn Shackleford from a hamstring injury.
With so many signs pointing to another shootout in the Superdome, Tulane recognizes the urgency needed on each possession, or else it could dig itself into a deep hole, as any hopes of a winning streak slip away into another season.
“We are in absolutely no position to feel satisfied with what we’ve done,” Skidmore said.
“We honestly haven’t accomplished anything yet. Sure, we’ve won a few games — and that’s good — but it’s not where we expect to be, and it’s not enough to prove we belong.
“We need to keep winning games and each time we take the field for a drive, we need to feel like we need to score.
“If we can do that, and play like we did last week, I’ll feel really good about the rest of the season. A winning streak would be great.”