NEW ORLEANS - Bob Toledo doesn’t want to look back.
But sometimes Tulane’s football coach just can’t help himself. With the Green Wave (2-4, 1-1 Conference USA) mired in a three-game losing streak and staring its ninth consecutive losing season in the face, it’s hard to ignore the opportunities already gone by before the season’s midpoint.
Lopsided losses to Tulsa, Duke and Army were joined by a 37-34 last-second defeat to Syracuse on Saturday and have Tulane looking at a steep uphill climb to its first bowl berth since 2002.
With seven games remaining, starting with Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. contest against UTEP in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Tulane needs to win five times to earn a chance at the postseason.
Before the season, Toledo said Tulane needed a fast start because the final five games feature clashes with C-USA heavyweights Houston and SMU as well as a road game at Hawaii.
Now Tulane is in a position neither Toledo nor his team expected be five years into his tenure: in another hole to climb out of.
“I think our kids realize that we let two games just go by us that, in my opinion, when the season started were winnable games in Duke and Army,” Toledo said. “We just didn’t play well in either one of them. We had too many penalties, too many turnovers, and too many mistakes. That kind of cost us. Then we felt if we could get into the Syracuse game and play real well, we could win that, and it would really get us going.
“It hasn’t worked out that way. Unfortunately we’ve got to live with what we’ve got. It’s not over yet. ... We have to go out and win five games in order to get into a bowl game. They know that; I know that, and everyone else does too.”
The Miners (2-3, 0-2) may be the perfect opponent to spur on winning ways. The Wave has won three of its past four games with UTEP, the only C-USA foe Tulane holds a winning record against during that span.
But several of Tulane’s players said they’ve learned a lesson about not counting on wins based on who’s on the other sideline. Rather, senior receiver Joe Kemp said it’s paramount to concentrate on focusing internally, not allowing outside expectations to distract from the task of performing.
Kemp cited the difference in approach as a difference between its 17-point comeback against Syracuse and its 39-point loss at Army.
“The feeling in the locker room was so much more positive after the Syracuse game,” Kemp said. “Everyone was talking about wanting to get back on the field, and we wish we could have played UTEP the next day.
“The locker room at Army was tough because no one went into that game thinking we could lose, at least I didn’t. For it to turn out the way it did was surprising. But everything happens for a reason, and I think a more unified team showed up this Saturday.”
With a thin margin for error and seven games remaining, Tulane needs to clean up several areas to affect the final scoreboard. The Wave ranks either last or second-to-last in C-USA for red zone defense, kickoff coverage, and penalty yardage.
While Toledo said there’s plenty of time left in the season, the turnaround needs to start now, or once again he’ll be looking back at what’s passed him by.
“As I talked to (quarterback) Ryan Griffin yesterday, he said, ?Coach, it’s a one-game season.’ We’ve got to win this game and we can get on a roll,” Toledo said. “But we have to win this football game, because (if you don’t) you get farther and farther behind the eight ball.”