Don’t look for any significant lineup changes for Tulane coming off its disappointing 37-7 season-opening loss to Duke.
When the Green Wave plays at 15th-ranked Georgia Tech on Saturday in Atlanta, the starters will be the same guys who earned that status in preseason practice. In Monday’s workout, the first- and second-team players were the same as the previous week with the exception of injured starting defensive tackle Sean Wilson, who is out with a sprained knee.
Tulane did not practice Tuesday.
“I really like this team,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “We just have to play better. I like what we’re doing on defense. The linebackers played well, and (safety) Darion Monroe probably had his best game. The receivers played pretty good, too.”
One lousy performance is not enough for Johnson to push the panic button, or as he put it, go on suicide watch.
“ A couple of years ago, we played South Alabama, and our defense couldn’t stop running water,” he said. “I was on suicide watch for real then. We lost that game, and then eight games later (actually six) we got bowl eligible, so it’s not over yet.”
Linebacker Nico Marley made a career-high 15 tackles against Duke. Monroe had eight stops, broke up a pass and recovered a fumble.
The next step is getting their teammates to play at the same level.
“I don’t know if we could have beaten (Duke), but the most disappointing thing was we didn’t play like we practiced,” Johnson said. “We didn’t play with the energy and the fire.”
In particular, Johnson noticed a dramatic drop-off in the offense’s intensity after it failed to pick up a first down on its first two possessions.
“We were all excited, we get hyped up, and then we go three-and-out, three-and-out,” Johnson said. “Then all of a sudden, they kind of went in the tank a little bit. We have to get past some of those immaturity things.”
As a four-touchdown underdog to Georgia Tech, Tulane has a tall task to avoid an 0-2 start. Just as important, though, is avoiding the negativity that seeps in when a team falls short of its early expectations.
Quarterback Tanner Lee insisted confidence was not a problem on offense, even though Duke came close to its first shutout of an FBS team since beating North Carolina 41-0 in 1989.
The Wave scored its only points on Lee’s 76-yard touchdown pass to Devon Breaux in the fourth quarter.
“We struggled to get into a rhythm a little bit, but we practiced well all week,” Lee said. “We know we’re better than that, so we’re looking forward to going out and playing better.”
The offensive line needs a boost, too. Despite having four returning starters up front along with its top three running backs, Tulane rushed for 25 yards — 206 fewer than it rolled up against Duke last year.
“It wasn’t at all what we expected,” junior guard Chris Taylor said. “Not finishing our blocks was the biggest issue.”
Although Johnson defended Lee for his lone interception against Duke, saying it bounced off a receiver’s hands (tight end Trey Scott), Lee blamed himself. With Tulane trailing 16-0 in the third quarter, he tried to zip the ball through double coverage in the middle of the field.
The ball deflected off Scott’s outstretched hands in traffic, and linebacker Zavier Carmichael dove to grab it at the Blue Devils’ 22 right before it hit the ground.
“The guy made a great play, but it was an ill-advised throw,” Lee said. “I could have done something else with it. Sometimes late in the game, you want to try to make a play, and you have to stay away from that and continue to make the smart play.”
Johnson said Tuesday offensive lineman John Leglue would replace Mike Lizanich on snaps for field goals and extra points. Lizanich will remain the punt snapper even though he flubbed one against Duke. … Freshman cornerback Dedrick Shy will miss his second straight game after his high-school academic record was flagged by the NCAA Clearinghouse. His status remains in limbo.