In a reversal from previous weeks, Tulane came out throwing against East Carolina during Saturday’s game in Greenville, N.C.
Although Tanner Lee finished with a career-high 301 passing yards, the pass-happy offense did not produce a touchdown for the first time all year in the Green Wave’s 34-6 loss.
The opening possession was a three-and-out with a 2-yard completion followed by two incomplete passes, the second one a throw into double coverage.
After Tulane reached the East Carolina 39 on its third series, Lee threw three consecutive incomplete passes, forcing a punt.
The running game never clicked. Having rushed for at least 124 yards in every American Athletic Conference game, the Wave managed just 24 yards on 27 carries against East Carolina’s conference-leading rush defense. Even subtracting four sacks of Lee, Tulane’s rushing numbers were a paltry 23 carries for 50 yards.
“We couldn’t get anything going in the first half,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said in a postgame radio interview. “Our run game didn’t come through for us because we really wanted to be balanced.”
Sherman Badie, playing on a gimpy ankle, led the Wave with 25 yards on seven carries. Freshman Dontrell Hilliard, who had a big game in Tulane’s upset of Houston on Nov. 8, was limited to 5 yards on nine carries.
Big day for Scofield
Safety Sam Scofield, Tulane’s leading tackler for the past two years, came within one tackle of his career high with 17.
None was more significant than his stop when East Carolina went for it on fourth-and-goal from inside the Tulane 1 late in the second quarter. Running back Breon Allen tried to bounce outside, and Scofield nailed him for a 1-yard loss as Tulane took over on downs with a 10-3 deficit.
East Carolina — which scored 70 points against North Carolina earlier this year — was stuck on 20 midway through the fourth quarter before tacking on two touchdowns.
“We knew they were going to be tough to handle, but for the most part we had a pretty good effort,” Scofield said. “We definitely have come together and have an identity on defense.”
Scofield’s career high for tackles was 18 against Tulsa last year, when he finished with 104 stops. He has 89 stops this season, 15 more than Nico Marley, Tulane’s second-leading tackler.
Tulane limited East Carolina — which had converted a conference-best 49.6 percent of it third downs through nine games — to a season-low 2-of-11 on third downs.
Unfortunately for the Wave, the Pirates circumvented that problem on their first three touchdowns drives by doing all of their damage on first and second downs. The only third down they faced in any of those possessions was a third-and-goal from the 4 when they led 3-0, and quarterback Shane Carden hit Isaiah Jones for an easy score.
After Scofield’s fourth-down stop at the 2 with 1:52 left in the half, Johnson elected to keep the ball on the ground and force East Carolina to use all three of its timeouts.
The Pirates forced a punt easily, took over at the Tulane 49 with 1:17 left and needed only four plays to reach the end zone, going ahead 17-3 with 28 seconds left.
Tulane failed to force a turnover for the first time since Sept. 21, 2013, against Syracuse, a stretch of 20 games. ... Tulane will finish with four or fewer wins for the eighth time in nine years. ... The Green Wave is 0-8 all-time in Greenville, N.C.