Tulane will at least have its first-string quarterback when it faces another first-rate opponent Saturday.
After missing a 42-7 loss to Houston, Tanner Lee passed the concussion protocol Wednesday and will start against Navy (5-1, 2-0 American Athletic Conference), giving the Green Wave (2-4, 1-2) hope it can be more competitive than outsiders expect.
The Midshipmen, who received nine votes in the coaches’ top 25 poll this week, are favored by more than three touchdowns to hand the Wave its fifth lopsided loss in seven outings. Navy’s only defeat came 41-24 at No. 11 Notre Dame in a game that was tied at 21 before quarterback Keenan Reynolds missed most of the second half with a leg injury.
Still, getting Lee back beats the alternative for Tulane as it continues its four-week gauntlet against the top teams in the AAC (combined record: 22-1). With backup Devin Powell sidelined by an arm injury in practice, former walk-on Jordy Joseph, a 5-foot-10 senior from New Iberia, was ticketed for his first career start if Lee were unavailable.
“Tanner looked good today,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “The offense never looks good (without Lee in practice), but when he’s in there, it looks good no matter what. All of a sudden you see a throw where he hits a guy in a tight spot, and it gives everyone confidence.”
Confidence has been in short supply virtually all year for Tulane, with the Wave trailing by double digits at halftime in each of its losses. Lee’s return, though, put a pep in Johnson’s step.
The key will be keeping Lee upright against Navy so he does not take any more hits to the head. Sacked 15 times through five games, he left against Temple in the third quarter Oct. 10 with concussion-like symptoms.
Look for maximum protection schemes this Saturday. Navy is no defensive juggernaut, but the Middies had five sacks in a 28-18 win at Connecticut.
Johnson talked about two-man routes at his Tuesday media luncheon because the only possible chance at an upset is with Lee on the field for all four quarters.
“With him out there, we know what we’re doing, and it was pretty smooth today,” Johnson said. “If we can match (Navy’s) intensity on offense with our defense, we might be able to get some stuff on their defense. We can move it.”
So can Navy, which received good news about its starting quarterback, too. Senior Keenan Reynolds, whose 25 victories as a starter are the most in school history, has practiced all week after exiting the Notre Dame game Oct. 10 with a leg injury.
He took a helmet-to-helmet hit with 9:28 left in the second quarter, crashed to the turf and hurt his shin when a defender fell on him. He returned in the third quarter but was ineffective before being replaced again.
The Midshipmen are coming off an open week.
“The week off really helped,” Reynolds told the Washington Post on Tuesday. “I was getting in the treatment room as much as I could, and I feel really good.”
Reynolds, a two-time 1000-yard rusher, is on pace to do it again with a team-best 598 yards. No one has stopped him or Navy’s option attack this year. The Midshipmen gained 456 yards on the ground against East Carolina and surpassed 300 against all five opponents, including Notre Dame.
It’s not like Tulane is catching a break after facing Georgia Tech, which was in the top 25 at the time, along with Duke, Temple and Houston, which are ranked now.
“We didn’t know the schedule was going to be this tough,” safety Darion Monroe said. “But they scheduled them, and we have to play them.”
Redshirt freshman cornerback Donnie Lewis Jr. suffered a stinger against Houston and will not play against Navy. He started the first four games at safety and the next one at cornerback, making 20 tackles. ... Sophomore cornerback Richard Allen, who also started the first four games, practiced Wednesday after sitting out the last two with a sprained ankle. … Reserve defensive tackle Eldrick Washington hurt his right knee at Wednesday’s practice and may not be available Saturday.