NEW ORLEANS - Tulane is familiar with adversity.
As a football program that hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2002 and hasn’t sniffed a .500 record since coach Bob Toledo’s arrival in 2007, the Green Wave (2-1, 1-1 Conference USA) is accustomed to being on the wrong end of a lopsided scoreboard.
So much so, Toledo coined the term “Tulane attitude” when referring to the overwhelming feeling of discouragement and helplessness on the sideline after an opponent seizes momentum. On several occasions in the past five years, a special teams snafu or critical turnover swung a competitive contest into a blowout loss.
“I get tired of something bad happening or getting behind and all of a sudden it’s that Tulane attitude of, ?here we go again,’ “ Toledo said. “That’s for losers. We need to start winning and developing a different attitude.”
The Wave took the message to heart during its 49-10 win over University of Alabama at Birmingham on Saturday, shaking off the Blazers’ first-quarter kickoff return touchdown with relative ease en route to the most lopsided win of Toledo’s tenure in New Orleans.
Whether it’s due to a boost in experience, maturity or talent, Tulane finally discovered the short-term memory required to overcome negative momentum swings. The larger question is whether it was a one-game adjustment or a legitimate shift in team toughness.
The first test comes at 2:34 p.m. Saturday at Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium, where a win over the Blue Devils (1-2) would give Tulane its first 3-1 record since 2003.
Count seniors Joe Kemp and Harris Howard among the believers. Both the wide receiver and guard have suffered through a litany of blowout defeats, but each pointed to the leadership of junior quarterback Ryan Griffin as a difference-maker in the Wave’s attitude adjustment.
Not only did Griffin decimate UAB on the field - earning Conference USA’s Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors for completing 22 of 26 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns - he also provided a rational steadiness off of it.
“I wish you could have heard what was being said on the sideline after they ran that kick back for a touchdown,” Kemp said. “It was almost as if it didn’t even happen, and that’s different for us. Immediately, Ryan (Griffin) was saying, ?What did you think - we would only have to score three points for us to win the game?’ It made everybody breathe a little bit.
“We need to keep in mind there are a lot of plays to be made and it’s a perfect example of a leader stepping up and saying the right things at the right time.”
The lesson may have been learned after Tulane’s 31-3 loss to Tulsa two weeks ago, when a 3-3 game spiraled out of control after a series of mental errors and miscues. And as Tulsa’s lead ballooned, Tulane’s blunders increased.
It angered Toledo so much that he forced the entire team to watch game film together pointing out how each individual mistake damaged the unit as a whole.
Based on Saturday’s results, it appears the message was driven home.
“(Getting discouraged) was one of the things that happened against Tulsa,” Toledo said. “You know they scored at the end of the half to make it 10-3 and as we’re walking down that tunnel, everyone is saying ?Oh no, here we go.’ It’s a mentality that drives me crazy and it’s one we’re trying to change.
“Hopefully with the leadership we have now and this senior class these guys are tired of losing. I told them that I’m tired of losing.”