Less than a half-hour after running over Tulsa on Saturday, the Tulane football team already was putting the Golden Hurricane in its rearview mirror and looking ahead to the rest of the season.
The 62-28 shellacking at Yulman Stadium won’t mean much if the Green Wave (3-2, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) fails to build on that dominant performance, starting Saturday at Florida International.
“We are sitting at 3-2 right now, so we’re just going to move on to next week,” said quarterback Jonathan Banks, who directed seven consecutive touchdowns drives in the first half. “We played good. We just have to come back tomorrow and focus on FIU.”
Considering the remaining schedule, it is easy for the Wave to get excited about the possibilities. FIU (3-2) has a winning record, but the Panthers’ victories under new coach Butch Davis came 17-10 against Alcorn State of the FCS, 13-7 against Rice (1-5) and 30-29 against Charlotte (0-6), a team that led them 26-7 in the first half and missed what would have been a winning field goal as time ran out. Their losses were 61-17 to Central Florida and 37-17 on Saturday to Middle Tennessee State.
Tulane begins November with a home game against Cincinnati, which is 2-4, has yielded 134 points during a three-game losing streak and beat Austin Peay and Miami (Ohio) by a combined 16 points. A week later, the Wave plays at East Carolina (1-5), which has given up at least 34 points in every game and is the only team in college football allowing more yards than Tulsa.
With the same focus it exhibited Saturday, Tulane, a unanimous pick to finish last in the American Athletic Conference West division at the league’s Media Days, should become bowl eligible at the minimum.
The key is sustaining that momentum after scoring the second-most points in school history for a conference game.
“When you start doing this, you have to do it every day,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said. “That’s the thing we were really trying to emphasize to our guys (after beating Army on Sept. 23). We are going to be very critical of the game tape and see the areas that we can improve on because there are a lot of mistakes we made today, and we need to keep getting better.”
Fritz can point to three unsportsmanlike conduct/personal foul penalties Tulane received and the four times Tulsa receivers got behind everyone in the secondary, resulting in three long completions and a would-be touchdown pass that was dropped.
More important, though, is the Wave’s approach.
“It’s tough to be mentally tough every day,” Fritz said. “A lot of guys get challenged by that and start fading away a little bit. We’re trying to have that upward trajectory and improvement on a daily basis. (When) you start doing that, you start getting really good.”
Back-to-back games later this month will let the Wave know exactly where it stands. On Oct. 21, 18th-ranked South Florida will come to Yulman Stadium. Assuming the undefeated Bulls take care of Cincinnati at home on Saturday, Tulane will get another chance to beat a ranked team for the first time since Florida State in 1983.
Six days later, Tulane will travel to Memphis (4-1), which is coming off a 70-31 rout of Connecticut and might be ranked, too, if it knocks off undefeated Navy at home Saturday.
But first, the Wave gets a nonconference matchup with FIU, an easy opponent to overlook for teams that get distracted.
Running back Dontrell Hilliard, who set career bests with four touchdowns and 175 yards against Tulsa, dismissed that possibility.
“We are making big steps,” he said. “Our main thing is to stay focused and keep going, play one game at a time and use this momentum to play for the next game.”