Tulane coach Curtis Johnson has spent nearly two weeks trying to decide on a starting quarterback.
Even after finishing the last true practice of the week, no decision is final. Starter Tanner Lee injured his throwing shoulder during Tulane’s 31-6 loss at Rutgers on Sept. 27 and hasn’t participated in a full practice since, likely leaving the job open to backups Nick Montana and Devin Powell.
“Tanner did some work early on, but not enough to show that he’s going to do much unless he does something tomorrow to really impress,” Johnson said after Thursday’s practice. “Nick did a good job today and so did Devin. Those guys played about 50/50 today with equal reps.”
Johnson said he’s still holding out hope that Lee is available for Saturday’s 7 p.m. kickoff against Connecticut at Yulman Stadium, but needs the redshirt freshman to show an ability to make difficult throws on his injured shoulder before starting him. Lee started all five of Tulane’s games, completing 70 of his 142 pass attempts for 914 yards, including eight touchdowns and nine interceptions.
While Lee is Johnson’s first choice to start, getting him onto the field goes beyond a medical clearance.
“He’s got to show me that he’s going to throw it well enough and run this offense,” Johnson said. “I just have seen a couple of plays, and nothing is there to say he can run this thing like we want him to.”
Montana has spent more time with the first-team offense than Powell in practice the past two weeks, but Johnson said he would be comfortable calling on either to lead Tulane (1-4, 0-1 American) against the Huskies (1-4, 0-2).
“Whoever is playing, we are going to play to their strengths,” Johnson said. “We have enough stuff that we can do that and both of those guys can be comfortable with whatever we script.”
Tulane added Trevor Simms into the kicker competition on Thursday.
The baseball player-turned-kickoff specialist worked on field goals for the first time joining the competition between starter Andrew DiRocco (1-for-5 on field goals this year) and backup Steven Broccoli. Simms missed nearly two games due to an injured hip sustained during a kickoff return in Tulane’s 35-20 win over Southeastern Louisiana.
His late arrival to the roster also left him unavailable to compete for the job in preseason practice. However, one day into the mix and he’s already left an impression on the Tulane staff.
“I like my little kicking competition,” Johnson said. “We added (Simms). ... He just started today, and he’s looking pretty good. It jumped off of his leg.”
Johnson said DiRocco is still the leader at this point but hadn’t gone through all of the data from practice to see which kicker performed with better snaps and holds.
Deep snapper Mike Lizanich is unlikely to play for the third consecutive game after injuring his hamstring during warmups before Tulane’s 47-13 loss at Duke. That leaves senior tight end Matt Marfisi to handle the duties.
“I don’t think (Lizanich) is going to play,” Johnson said. “Marfisi is getting better and better each time. So, I don’t see it.”
Tulane’s defense is best when it’s at its fastest. That’s usually found in the nickel package, featuring at least five defensive backs.
However, Connecticut’s heavy offensive sets are similar to Rutgers’ schemes, which forced Tulane to trade in a cornerback for a bigger linebacker. Without freshman Zachery Harris (who was lost for the season with a knee injury against Rutgers), Tulane is thin on strongside linebackers and may be forced to adjust its base set.
It’s why nickel corner Taurean Nixon said the Green Wave is determined to use a smaller defensive lineup against the Huskies run-based offense.
“I think we are going to run more of the nickel package against this team,” Nixon said. “I’m going to have to read the run and hit certain gaps hard and that’s not something I’m completely used to as a corner, but it’s what is best for our defense. I’ll be lined up inside and I need to know my gaps and pretty much turn into a linebacker.”
With Tulane students out for fall break, the Green Wave is getting creative to fill the seats.
The school is offering the public $20 general admission tickets in the student section and allowing the university’s faculty and staff to purchase two tickets for $10.
High school football teams are invited to attend free of charge, and anyone who participates in Tulane’s cheerleading clinic from 3-4 p.m. at Devlin Fieldhouse will also be able to attend the football game.
There are also discounts at YulmanStadium.com for families with children, available through the promotional code “KIDS.”