NEW ORLEANS — If Tulane coach Curtis Johnson were to script an outcome to Saturday afternoon’s game against bowl-eligible East Carolina at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, no doubt his senior class of 19 would emerge victorious in their home finale.
In the softer, gentler corridor of his mind, Johnson probably feels the seniors deserve something good to happen to them.
Eighteen will be in uniform or in street clothes on the sideline.
A 19th, safety Devon Walker, will be there in spirit. He broke his neck against Tulsa on Sept. 8 and remains as an in-patient recovering from surgery and rehabbing at an undisclosed spinal injury rehabilitation facility.
A recent video from Walker to his teammates paints an optimistic picture, though no recent update has come from school officials or his family.
And while defeating the Pirates is Tulane’s ultimate goal Saturday, one suspects that the possibility of losing for the ninth time in 11 games this season would do little to change Johnson’s opinion of his first Green Wave team.
Or his 19 seniors.
In Johnson’s book, they are all winners, regardless what their record (2-8, 2-4 Conference USA) says, or how they might be viewed around the college football world.
“These seniors are very special,” Johnson said. “They’ve come at a very difficult time. They have had a lot of adversity throughout this whole year. I think these guys have been magnificent. They’ve been character, good kids. They’ve given it all. They are still out there practicing hard and trying to win a game. These seniors mean everything to this program. They’re just a special group.”
Tulane freshman defensive back Lorenzo Doss of St. Augustine shares that sentiment.
“That would be great to send the seniors out with a big win,” said Doss, whose four interceptions represent the most by a Green Wave freshman in one season since David Lee had five in 1972. “We just have to play our game and make plays.”
In a sense, Johnson’s first campaign has been a tale of two seasons, with Saturday’s game representing Game 6 in the Green Wave’s unofficial “second season.’’
Its “first season’’ ended 0-5, the last four defeats coming quite soundly by an aggregate score of 190-33. Against Tulsa in Game 2, in addition to losing Walker in traumatic fashion, the Green Wave lost the services of starting quarterback Ryan Griffin for the next 31/2 games with an injured shoulder.
The Wave’s unofficial “second season’’ began with Griffin’s return under center in Game 6, a 27-26 win against SMU. Since then, Griffin has played phenomenally, etching his name in the school record books. Tulane is 2-3 and has played competitively in all three losses, losing by 4, 2 and 14 points to teams on equal footing (UTEP, Rice and Memphis).
On Saturday, the Green Wave will step up in class against an East Carolina team that is bowl-eligible (6-4, 5-1) for the sixth time in seven years.
The Pirates are 9-2 against Tulane all-time and handled the Green Wave 34-13 at Greenville, N.C., a year ago. The Pirates are coming off a 48-28 win over Houston and have beaten Tulane four straight times.
In the Pirates’ most recent outing, sophomore quarterback Shane Carden tossed four first-half touchdown passes.
Tulane closes out the regular season at Houston on Nov. 24.
“This quarterback is one of the better quarterbacks in the league,’’ Johnson said of Carden, who has thrown for 20 touchdowns and rushed for four. “What he does is he’ll look, he’ll look and then he’ll run. It’s hard to prepare for a guy who can throw and run.’’
East Carolina also will be facing one of the better quarterbacks in C-USA. Griffin, who will celebrate his 23rd birthday as part of Senior Day, has played brilliantly in his two games at the Superdome.
Griffin became just the second quarterback in Tulane history to throw for 400 yards in consecutive games, amassing 466 yards against UAB in Game 8 and extending his school record a week later with 476 yards versus Rice.
He posted more pedestrian numbers in last Saturday’s 37-23 loss at Memphis, throwing for 211 yards and one touchdown while committing four turnovers (3 INTs, 1 fumble).
“He’s been playing like Superman most of the year,” Johnson said of Griffin, a fifth-year senior who has started the past three seasons. “We can’t turn the football over. If we turn the football over, we are going to be in trouble. If you don’t turn it over and we establish a little bit of a running game, Griffin will be great.”
Johnson couldn’t write a better script.