PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Each week seems to provide more questions and fewer answers for the Tulane football team.
Breakdowns occurred in all three phases as the Green Wave was pounded 31-6 by Rutgers on Saturday afternoon in High Point Solutions Stadium.
The defense crumbled at the start. The offense never recovered.
The Scarlet Knights (4-1) scored three early touchdowns to put pressure on a Green Wave offense that lost quarterback Tanner Lee to a shoulder injury midway through the second quarter. Outside of a lightning-quick 86-yard run by Sherman Badie, Tulane (1-4) was kept off the scoreboard and stagnated in the second half.
“Tanner practiced all week. We do some reps with Devin (Powell) and a little with Nick (Montana), but Tanner takes the majority of reps,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “We had to cut down what we could do, and it wasn’t very effective.”
Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova and receiver Leonte Carroo connected on three touchdown passes as Nova piled up 291 yards. His four touchdowns propelled the senior into first on the school’s all-time touchdown list with 60.
Nova started his coronation early, capping a 10-play, 53-yard drive by finding Carroo streaking across the back of the end zone from 3 yards. A possession later, Carroo leaped over Tulane cornerback Lorenzo Doss in the corner of the end zone to pull in another score.
Then, just two plays after Tulane punter Peter Picerelli pinned Rutgers at its 1-yard line, Nova faked a handoff and found seldom-used Andrew Turzilli, who caught it near midfield and outran the Tulane secondary to the end zone for a 93-yard score.
“I didn’t feel it was a knockout blow — it was too early in the game for that — but it’s a big play in the game,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. “That play got us up 21. You get up 21-0 on somebody, I would imagine your chances of winning the game go pretty high.
“So the game’s not over, there’s a lot of football left to play, but it certainly gave us a lot of momentum. You start with the 1-yard line, and three plays later you score a touchdown, there’s some momentum to be had there.”
The 21-point deficit felt even greater with Lee relegated to the sideline. The redshirt freshman had just pieced together a nearly 70-yard drive to reach the Rutgers 10, but a 15-yard chop block penalty put Tulane in third-and-long, prompting the Scarlet Knights to send heavy pressure.
Kemoko Turay broke into the backfield and dropped Lee for a sack, injuring Lee’s shoulder and bringing Powell into the game.
Trailing 21-6 in the final two minutes of the first half, Powell led Tulane 64 yards and deep into Rutgers territory with time running down. But Andrew DiRocco — who missed an extra point earlier — pushed a 36-yard field-goal attempt wide, sapping the Green Wave of any momentum.
From there, Tulane’s offense disappeared. The Green Wave gained just 49 yards on its next four drives before allowing third-stringer Montana to play the final possession, when he completed all five of his attempts for 18 yards.
Johnson said he’s uncertain how long Lee’s injury will keep him out for. If he’s unable to play, a decision on the quarterback will be reached during the upcoming bye week.
“I liked the drive (Powell) had right before the half,” Johnson said. “We don’t practice the second-team or the third-team quarterback very much, so he was doing a lot of stuff off of memory from training camp.
“I thought he played pretty well. He got a few nice throws and a nice run going. He did some stuff, but when you lose your starter, especially a freshman who needs all of the reps in practice, you don’t get other guys a chance at quarterback.”
The Green Wave has lost eight of its past nine games against Football Bowl Subdivision competition dating to November and still hasn’t won a game outside of Louisiana under Johnson.
“We haven’t won in a long time, and confidence is something you want with a young team,” Johnson said. “We just have to figure out a way to get our confidence and swagger going again.
“Going in, we knew this could happen because we played two ACC teams and a Big Ten team and four of six on the road. We just need to build some momentum.”