“The first game is always the tone-setter for the year.”
— Tulane safety Darion Monroe.
Boy, if that’s so, then the Green Wave is in big trouble.
Last week’s 37-7 season-opening loss to Duke echoed all of the things that led to last season’s 3-9 finish: an anemic offense, a decent defense that couldn’t hold on forever, and predictably disastrous special teams play.
It was Tulane’s worst loss in a home opener since 1990. More to the point, the only home team in the country that lost by a bigger margin last week was SMU, and the Mustangs were playing No. 4 Baylor.
“We didn’t show who we are,” said Monroe, a senior from East St. John who can be counted on to be a straight shooter about his team. “We didn’t execute, we missed a lot of tackles, and we did some bad things on special teams.
“It’s just the first game. But we’ve got to come out and do a lot better this week.”
Tulane is playing at No. 15 Georgia Tech on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets are the Wave’s first ranked opponent of the Curtis Johnson era, and the 30-point spread is the largest of the past four years.
And for those history buffs among you, Tulane has lost 37 straight games against ranked opponents, 38 if you count the 1983 victory against Florida State that was forfeited due to sins committed in the Wally English era. That makes the 1982 upset of No. 12 LSU the last official time the Wave beat a ranked foe.
So nobody much apart from the folks on Ben Weiner Boulevard is expecting an upset.
But at the least, as Monroe said, the Wave needs to play a lot better, or things could spiral downward in a hurry. The season already carried modest expectations, even from those in charge: Johnson said he would be “disappointed,” if his team doesn’t go a bowl; Shouldn’t he say he’d be disappointed if his team doesn’t win them all?
With FCS Maine (a 24-3 loser to Boston College in its opener) and Central Florida, which was upset by Florida International, coming to Yulman Stadium in the next two weeks, Tulane has a reasonable chance to get even at 2-2.
But another blowout loss would have heads hanging.
“It’s more of a confidence thing,” Monroe said. “We’ve got to play with confidence.
“If you’re not playing with confidence, then you’re playing not to get beat. You’re not playing to win.”
It’s hard to say the Wave was playing with any offensive confidence against Duke.
After an offseason when Johnson promised to unleash the offense, Tulane’s first possession consisted of three runs inside the tackles that netted 7 yards (including a 2-yard loss on third-and-1) and forced the first of 10 punts on a day when the Wave was 2-for-14 on third-down conversions plus 0-for-2 on fourth-down tries.
One of those came on what would have been the team’s 11th punt, but snapper Michael Lizanich dribbled the ball on the ground for an embarrassing Not Top 10 moment in the fourth quarter.
“Enough is enough,” Johson said Tuesday, while announcing that he’s keeping Lizanich as the punt snapper but replacing him on PATs and field goals, the latter of which the Wave had no attempts against Duke.
Overall, he said later, “I thought we played pretty decent.”
Maybe that’s why there were no other depth chart changes announced on Tuesday, although Johnson said he was going to use more starters on special teams, which already involved several starters.
“We had some older guys who made rookie mistakes on special teams,” said Monroe, who is on most of the special teams units. “Special teams is something you’ve got to want to do.
“It’s one-third of the game, and if you win two-thirds of game, you’re going win.”
Monroe admitted Tuesday he was “real mad,” about the outcome against Duke — adding, though, that he can’t afford to be, at least publicly, because, “I’m supposed to be the cool guy on the team.
“But there are things I say to my guys I don’t say to anybody else.”
Presumably the coaches are saying those kinds of things too.
More importantly, if, as Johnson said, his team practiced much better than it played its first time out, he and his staff need to figure out what that happened and do their best to correct them.