Next level: Tulane seeks some sacks
Lost in a feel-good performance against outmanned Maine on Sept. 19 was Tulane’s continued struggle to mount a pass rush.
For the second time in two games at Yulman Stadium, the Green Wave did not get a sack, leaving it with one for the year — on a blitz by nickelback Jarrod Franklin against Georgia Tech.
To beat Central Florida, Tulane needs to ratchet up the pressure in a hurry.
“We have to improve our four-man pressure,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “What’s happened with some of those games is teams had us reeling because they could throw or run. You can get more sacks when you get them in third and long and we just got to put teams in those situations. If we do that, we’ll get a lot more sacks.”
Johnson had labeled the front four a team strength in August. End Royce LaFrance entered his senior season with 13½ sacks, placing him ninth in school history and in range to challenge the school record of 22½ after getting in the best shape of his career.
The other starting end, sophomore Ade Aruna, was virtually unblockable in the preseason, leading teammates to predict a monster year for him.
Tackle Tanzel Smart, a disruptor in the middle, was supposed to make it easier for the ends to apply pressure.
So far, nada. Duke and Maine combined to throw 82 times without getting sacked.
The return of versatile starter Sean Wilson from a knee injury he sustained in the opener should help. He gives the Wave more athleticism up front.
UCF’s quarterbacks have been sacked seven times in the first three games. If Tulane produces another goose egg, it won’t win.
1. Big plays
Tulane’s offense looked good against Maine but likely will have trouble sustaining long drives against UCF. Running backs Sherman Badie and Dontrell Hilliard and receiver Teddy Veal, a trio that accounted for three touchdowns of 39 yards or longer vs. Maine, must provide more quick strikes.
2. No blown chances
Last year, Tulane failed to capitalize on an interception on UCF’s opening series, missing a 42-yard field goal. Can’t happen this time. Teddy Veal dropped a sure 72-yard touchdown pass against Maine. Can’t happen this time. The Wave’s margin for error is not big enough.
3. Sound defense
UCF, which struggled to move the ball against Tulane last year, has struggled against everyone so far this season. The Wave cannot afford to give the Knights any confidence with cheap touchdowns. Limit the long gains, and UCF may self-destruct.
4. No special SNAFUs
That’s easier said than done with Tulane, but it’s critical. Maybe the presence of St. Louis Rams scout Billy Johnson at practice on Thursday will provide good karma. Johnson was a flawless long snapper for the Wave in 2012.