PISCATAWAY, N.J. — When asked about the timing of Tulane’s upcoming open date, coach Curtis Johnson needed just one word in response.
After starting the season 1-4 and directly on the heels of being outscored 78-19 in losses at Duke and Rutgers, the Green Wave relishes a time for reflection, introspection and possibly reinvention. Tulane has won just one game against a Football Bowl Subdivision foe since November, and its youthful depth chart isn’t showing signs of improvement.
“We are playing some kids that right now shouldn’t be playing,” Johnson said after Saturday’s 31-6 loss at Rutgers. “We had some early-on mistakes and penalties and mishaps. We actually cut our penalties down a bit, but it’s still a problem and we are still pretty young.”
Tulane isn’t going to suddenly become more experienced than its opponents, but the opportunity to get back to basics, without the threat of an opponent for two weeks (next up is Connecticut at Yulman Stadium on Oct. 11), is a welcome relief. This is the first of three open dates in a regular season that stretches all the way to Dec. 6.
It’s an odd calendar, combined with an 11-team American Athletic Conference, that allowed the season to be extended because the league doesn’t need to clear space for a league championship game until Navy joins in 2015.
There was no update on the health of quarterback Tanner Lee’s throwing shoulder Sunday. The redshirt freshman was injured midway through the second quarter Saturday when he was sacked
“We have two backups that have played in a lot of games, and this is (Devin) Powell’s third year in the program, so he knows what he’s doing,” offensive coordinator Eric Price said. “You really just have to move on. Those guys can run the plays, and we just have to execute around them.”
But without Lee, Tulane’s offense was virtually nonexistent in the second half as Rutgers attacked Tulane in the backfield and never allowed the Green Wave to finish a drive across midfield.
“We have a week to sit down and evaluate it, and I’m not exactly sure of what Tanner’s status is,” Price said. “We will get back and evaluate, but Nick Montana started every game he was healthy last year, and Powell has always played when we have injuries, which we’ve had a lot of. They have strengths and, if they play, we’ll gear the game plan around them.”
‘Don’t know how to lose’
The time off also allows Tulane to rebuild its confidence after a pair of demoralizing weeks.
Rather than repeatedly focusing on the mistakes in an effort to scout for a game, several of Tulane’s upperclassmen said they wanted to use this time to boost the egos of young players who aren’t accustomed to striving for anything but championships and perfect seasons.
“We have a lot of young guys, and we have to keep them up because they don’t know how to lose,” junior safety Darion Monroe said. “We have a lot of guys from (John) Curtis, which is a winning program, and schools from around the city who played at winning programs and don’t know how to lose. We don’t want them to tank it and think that the season is over. It’s not over; we just need to let them know there’s a lot left to play for.”
Each of the remaining seven games are against conference foes, and four are in the friendly confines of Yulman Stadium. Tulane’s goal of reaching consecutive bowl games for the first time in generations is still attainable, but the margin for error is slim.
“I think everybody is down after this game because of the way things have gone,” senior safety Sam Scofield said. “The older guys have got to step up and get a positive attitude. I mean, we have conference (play) coming up, and we can win the rest of our games. We just have to play a complete game, and we haven’t done that yet.”