PHILADELPHIA — It’s hard to nitpick when your team gets beat 49-10.
You can’t really point to a certain play as a turning point, even when you’ve twice held the lead.
And yet, who knows what might’ve happened if Tulane gotten a quick touchdown, rather than having to settle for a field goal on its first possession? And what if first-time starting punter Zach Block didn’t simply drop the ball as he was trying to kick it?
Perhaps that’s what Curtis Johnson will tell his troops when they get back home, long after Temple ran off the last 42 points to run its record to 5-0. Certainly he’ll need to find some positives, because when you manage just 110 yards of offense — not even reaching the century mark until the final minute — there’s not much to say.
“They forced us to be one-dimensional, and with our young quarterback (Tanner Lee), we can’t do that,” said Johnson, after his 2-3 club was held to just eight first downs and 8 rushing yards. The Wave, in fact, needed 19 yards in the final minute to avoid a negative number on the ground. Lee, meanwhile, threw two interceptions and was sacked four times.
“We never got in a rhythm all day,” Johnson said. “We never ran it well and were in too many third and long situations. On the flip side, I thought Temple’s line was much more physical than us. They really pushed us back.”
But not right away. After Darion Monroe scooped up Ryquell Armstead’s fumble on the third play from scrimmage at the Temple 29, Tulane seemed in business. The Green Wave picked up two first downs to make it first-and-goal at the 8 before Sherman Badie ran for six more.
On second-and-goal at the 2, though, rather than trying to pound it in, Johnson called for a passing play that couldn’t have gone much worse. Not only did Lee overthrow his Teddy Veal, he threw it backward, making it live ball. Even though Veal recovered at the 11 to keep possession, it forced Tulane to try a field goal.
“I thought it was a well-designed play,” said Johnson, defending the call. “One of the better calls on the day. I think (Lee) just overthrew it. I don’t think he got much pressure. He just missed the throw.”
Still, Tulane hung in for a while — even though Lee took such a pounding he was unable to address reporters afterward because he was receiving medical attention.
“Tanner took a shellacking,” Johnson said of Lee, who finished a deceiving 16-for-29 for 95 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown to Veal that made it 10-7 early in the second period. “Their No. 9 (Temple’s Matt Ioannidis) wreaked havoc and those ends came off the corner. They have a great scheme and did a great job on the back end covering. They were phenomenal.”
Even his players knew it.
“They play an up-tempo defense and do a lot of blitzing,” said receiver Devon Breaux, who was held to four receptions for 28 yards. “They have a very good secondary. “They’re fast and smart and don’t make any mistakes.”
Tulane, meanwhile, made plenty of them, including nine penalties for 102 yards.
“We played undisciplined today,” Johnson conceded. “Once we started getting whipped, our kids got undisciplined, and that’s on me. I told them there are good teams in this (American Athletic) Conference. You can’t just live off what you did last week.
“Last week, we played well. This week, we didn’t.”
No nitpicking necessary.