Tulane coach Willie Fritz said he regretted a couple of pass calls after quarterback Jonathan Banks’ rough night against Florida International. He had zero qualms about the man throwing the passes.
Fritz still believes Banks will take the Green Wave a long way, discounting Banks' 5-of-16, 36-yard performance in a disappointing 23-10 loss on Saturday at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami.
It wasn’t what anyone was expecting with a home game against undefeated, 16th-ranked South Florida coming next.
“(Banks) is like a lot of guys,” Fritz said. “He didn’t play one of his better games, but when that happens, everybody’s got to pick up around him. He’s our guy, though. He’ll bounce back and have a great game this week.”
Before wide receiver Jabril Clewis made a 25-yard catch on a desperation fourth-down pass during Tulane’s final series, the Wave had lost one more yard than it had produced when Banks dropped back to pass; he was sacked twice for 10 yards while completing three for 9 yards.
He was coming off back-to-back big-time performances at home, producing touchdowns on all seven first-half possessions of Tulane’s 62-28 rout of Tulsa on Oct. 7 after leading a dramatic touchdown drive on the final series to beat 21-17 Army on Sept. 23.
This time, his first completion went for a 3-yard loss, and he was tackled a yard behind the line on the next snap. That bad start set the tone for eight empty possessions in 10 series as Tulane produced a season-low 239 yards against an opponent that had allowed an average of 407 in its first five games.
In contrast, Tulane’s defense had one tackle for a loss all night.
“We’ll learn from our mistakes, flush this tape down the toilet and move on to the next game,” Fritz said. “That’s what you’ve gotta do.”
Beaten soundly, Fritz and Tulane safety Roderic Teamer praised the Panthers more than they raised red flags about the Wave’s performance.
Fritz, who labeled FIU quarterback Alex McGough a potential NFL camp performer earlier in the week, added running back Alex Gardner to the list of top-line players for the Panthers. Gardner, the school’s career rushing leader, gained 79 yards on 20 carries without ever being caught in the backfield. His longest run was just 11 yards, but he moved the chains all night.
“He was probably a better player than I gave him credit for,” Fritz said. “I’ll say that. He’s a good running back. But the real thing they did a nice job of was scheming us. They ran some unbalanced (formations) with a little bit of zone read and took some pages out of our playbook.”
FIU wide receiver Thomas Owens had a huge night, finishing with six catches for 152 yards while matched up almost exclusively with Tulane’s best cornerback, Parry Nickerson. McGough tried to hit him deep on Nickerson on the game’s first snap, then came back to him for a third-down conversion in front of Nickerson to keep the Panthers’ opening drive alive.
“Their receiver is a great receiver,” Teamer said. “Throughout the scouting report, that’s what we talked about all week was we were going to have to stop him in the passing game. If it’s a 50-50 ball, he goes up and gets it.”
Nickerson, whose interception in the end zone ended FIU’s opening drive, had little help from the pass rush. McGough frequently bought time before finding Owens.
“We played man-to-man a lot, and you hope to get a little pressure when you’re bringing four, five or six guys,” Fritz said. “We just didn’t get a lot of pressure against them, and they did a really nice job of moving the pocket, too, running some bootlegs and getting out in space.”