Tulane, which entered its homecoming game against Memphis in a tie for 18th nationally in turnover margin at plus-7, won’t be anywhere near that spot next week.
The Green Wave tied its season high with five turnovers during its 38-7 loss Saturday at Yulman Stadium, and the cavalcade of errors started right away when quarterback Tanner Lee and wide receiver Justyn Shackleford had a miscommunication on Tulane’s second offensive snap. The byproduct: an easy interception for Memphis cornerback Bobby McCain, who returned it 15 yards for a touchdown.
It got worse for the Wave from there. Lee threw another interception on the second series and added two more, including an ill-advised heave that was returned for a 58-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Freshman running back Dontrell Hilliard also fumbled on a botched handoff from Lee.
“They are a very experienced team,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said of Memphis. “This team has been playing together (as starters) for three years. When they turned the ball over, they overcame. We turned it over and couldn’t get anything going.”
The play that bothered Lee the most was the second pick-six.
“I was off balance and there was a guy in my face,” he said. “I tried to throw it away, and it came out bad out of my hand.”
Tulane also had five turnovers in a 47-13 loss to Duke earlier this season.
Memphis coughed up the ball twice, so Tulane is down to plus-4 in turnover margin this season.
An airplane flew over the stadium repeatedly in the first half with the banner “Fire Rick Dickson” behind it.
Dickson, Tulane’s athletic director since 2000, said earlier in the week he “wouldn’t look up” when told about the plans for the banner. The Tulane football team has finished with a losing record in 12 of his 15 years as AD, and the men’s basketball team has not reached the NCAA tournament or the NIT.
The idea for the banner started on a Tulane message board, with people pooling $1,200 to pay for the plane. Reached earlier this week by The Advocate, the person who ran the message board that solicited the money chose to remain anonymous.
Tigers on a tear
Memphis, which has not won a conference championship since 1969 (Missouri Valley), is in terrific shape to claim at least a share of the AAC title.
The Tigers (7-3, 5-1) have home games left against bottom feeders South Florida and Connecticut. If they win those to finish 7-1, only Cincinnati and Central Florida can catch them, and both teams have three conference games remaining.
Memphis, which starts eight seniors on defense and has six fourth-or-five years players starting on offense, is headed to its first bowl game since 2008.
Before scoring a late touchdown, Tulane crossed the Memphis 20-yard line only once, getting a first-and-goal at the 6 right before halftime.
On second down, Lee threw to wide open receiver Teddy Veal in the corner of the end zone, but defensive back Bakari Hollier batted it down before it reached the end zone.
“He jumped so high,” Lee said. “He made a really good play.”
Tulane then botched a field-goal snap and failed to score.
Tulane’s inept offensive performance had little to do with injuries. After putting up 31 points at Houston while shorthanded, the Green Wave was close to full strength against Memphis.
Running backs Lazedrick Thompson, who played one down against the Cougars because of a sprained ankle, and Sherman Badie, who was limited two carries because of a sprained ankle, had much bigger roles this time.
Thompson finished with a team-best 70 yards on 12 carries despite tweaking his ankle again in the second quarter. Badie had 10 carries for 36 yards.
Freshman wide receiver Leondre James, who sprained an ankle during the Houston game, played and had one catch for 8 yards.
Tulane has lost eight in a row to Memphis dating to a 37-14 season-ending win in 2000. ... The Wave has lost seven of its last eight homecoming games. It snapped a six-game losing streak last season, beating North Texas at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. ... Tulane had its fourth touchdown drive of 90 yards or longer this year to avoid a shutout late in the fourth quarter, scoring on Dontrell Hilliard’s 19-yard run with 1:55 left. The last time the Wave failed to score was Sept. 22, 2012, in a 39-0 loss to Ole Miss.