NEW ORLEANS - Tulane wants to run the football. It’s that simple.
Since taking over play-calling duties this offseason, coach Bob Toledo hasn’t tried to hide the strategy or play coy with the media. Tulane’s offense starts with the running game and evolves from there.
However, when deficits mount - as they did during the Green Wave’s 31-3 loss to Tulsa on Saturday - the game plan is forced out of its comfort zone. It showed.
Tulane (1-1, 0-1 Conference USA) scratched out just 1.7 yards per carry and committed three turnovers.
So an effective first half on the ground in Saturday’s matchup at UAB is critical for the Wave to rediscover its offensive groove.
“Coach isn’t trying to fool anybody,” senior guard Harris Howard said. “We are here to run the ball. Then on top of that, we are going to run some play-action passes. But we can’t get any of that done unless we can establish the running game early. I think that responsibility falls on us in the first quarter, and we have to get out there and get off to an early start running the football.
“From that point, we can get after it and play the style we play best.”
In order to accomplish the task, Tulane’s offensive line will have to perform far better than it did against the Golden Hurricane. Despite having six “quality” running backs, according to Toledo, the Wave’s running game only sporadically succeeded and became non-existent as the score turned lopsided in the fourth quarter.
Without a rushing threat, Tulane’s offensive front was overwhelmed by a series of blitzes and stunts, while quarterback Ryan Griffin was unable to connect on passes down the field. Against the Blazers (0-1, 0-0), Griffin said it’s imperative to slow down the defensive line for the passing game to develop.
It starts with a strong running game.
“It’s tough to do play-action and get the defense to respect it when we aren’t running the ball,” Griffin said. “When you don’t do it well, they can just charge at you and it makes everything so much harder. Then you’ve put the offensive line in a bind, and it’s not fair to them. We need to keep the defense guessing and not allow them to predict what we’re doing.”
Unpredictability is where Tulane flourished in a 47-33 win over Southeastern Louisiana in the season opener. With a noticeable size advantage on the line of scrimmage, the Wave cleared space on the ground and allowed Griffin ample time to throw.
It led to a series of big plays that resulted in 393 yards of total offense. That efficiency disappeared against Tulsa.
“We regressed from the first week,” Toledo said. “I thought we went backward. We threw an interception, which is uncharacteristic of (Griffin). We had two fumbles. We (allowed) three sacks. They put a lot of pressure on us. The first week, we didn’t have any turnovers. This week, we turned the ball over a bunch. On third down, we were 5-of-20.”
It wasn’t just the ground attack that underperformed.
Wide receivers dropped several passes, running backs lost two fumbles, and kicker Cairo Santos missed back-to-back field goals.
“We’ve got to worry about ourselves,” Toledo said. “That’s what worries me. We’ve got to perform. We’ve got to do in a game what we do in practice. They’ve got to do what they’ve been taught to do, not different things. That really showed up.”
Still, Griffin believes the level of performance can return with a healthy rushing attack.
“It kind of takes us out of our game when we can’t run the way we want to,” Griffin said. “Saturday, it’s going to be critical we run well, so everyone can relax and we can run our offense the way we’re supposed to.”