Tulane’s experienced offensive line, which came up empty in lopsided losses to Duke and Georgia Tech, needs a strong performance against Maine to avoid a full-blown crisis.
It’s that simple. With a pair of three-year starters in center Nathan Shienle and tackle Arturo Uzdavinis plus two-year starting guards in Chris Taylor and Colton Hanson, the Green Wave cannot afford to be pushed around by an FCS opponent.
Tulane ranks 125 out of 127 FBS teams in rushing yards (38.0 per game), an incredible number for a team that was supposed to live off its talented running backs. Quarterback Tanner Lee has been sacked seven times, with the blockers either getting fooled by stunts or knocked backward into Lee.
Coach Curtis Johnson believes a simplified plan with an emphasis on pounding running back Lazedrick Thompson at the Black Bears will solve the problems. Tulane’s early deficit in both games forced it to abandon the ground game and become predictable.
“I think the offensive line will be fine,” Johnson said. “We need to get back to running it. It’s easy when you’re one-dimensional and you’re throwing it nonstop and they know it’s coming and they can dial up whatever they want to.”
With Thompson, Sherman Badie and Dontrell Hilliard all rushing for more than 100 yards in at least one game last year, the Wave appeared ready to run well almost every week this season.
If it doesn’t happen against Maine, it might not happen against anyone.
1. Starting fast
With confidence at a low ebb after drubbings by Duke and Georgia Tech, Tulane needs to get ahead early to create some positive vibes. Another slow start — this time against an FCS opponent — could cause the fans who show up at Yulman Stadium to turn on the team.
2. Need for balance
Maybe Tulane can pound the ball at Maine and just keep running it over and over, but that’s not the best approach for the future. Look for a run/pass mixture designed to prop up everyone on offense, including quarterback Tanner Lee and his receivers. The Wave can’t be one-dimensional and beat anyone with a pulse.
3. Attention to detail
Coach Curtis Johnson might have an aneurism if Tulane continues to botch punts, miss field goals and give up long returns on special teams. Every time the Wave makes mistakes like that, the energy level drops a notch. Getting 11 defensive players on the field for each snap would help, too.
4. Finishing strong
Nothing is guaranteed after Tulane’s shoddy performance in its first two games, but the Wave needs to do more than just beat Maine. It needs to look good and gather some positive momentum before starting conference play in October. Otherwise, being competitive in the AAC amounts to a pipe dream.