After getting flattened by Duke and Georgia Tech, the Tulane football team is turning to a player who can dish out his own punishment.
Coach Curtis Johnson identified junior running back Lazedrick Thompson as his principle ball carrier for Saturday’s game against Maine (0-1) as the Green Wave (0-2) tries to regain some of the confidence it lost in a pair of dismal performances.
The plan is to use him early and often, to bludgeon the Black Bears to create more space for a struggling passing game. If all goes as planned, Thompson’s aptitude for contact will change the Green Wave’s attitude.
“When he hits the hole, he can put somebody on their back,” quarterback Tanner Lee said. “It fires up the whole team, and we need that.”
Thompson, a 6-foot-0, 219-pound bruiser from St. Charles Catholic, gained 74 yards on 13 carries in Tulane’s 65-10 loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday. While some of his teammates checked out emotionally, he played hard from start to finish and emerged as the No. 1 guy in a crowded backfield.
The key is getting an early lead so he can continue to be part of the plan.
“He’s a battering ram,” Johnson said. “I’ve always wanted to get him the ball — but when you are down, you have to throw it, and that’s not what his forte is. He can just hit them and hit them and hit them. He makes them force their hand on defense, and then you can throw it.”
Sharing carries with Sherman Badie and Dontrell Hilliard last year, Thompson rushed for 533 yards on 109 attempts (4.9 average), starting three times. His numbers would have been better if not for an ankle injury against Cincinnati that he kept tweaking. It rendered him useless against Houston the following week and prevented him from playing against East Carolina a few games later.
Healthy and hungry, he pronounced himself ready for a heavy workload this Saturday.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “We definitely are going to run it down their throat from here on out.”
When Tulane played Duke last season, Thompson rushed for a career-high 124 yards on 19 carries. In four other games, he finished with 11 or 12 attempts for between 63 and 73 yards, taking the role of the Wave’s short-yardage back while Badie was the home-run hitter and Hilliard the all-purpose guy.
With a year of experience, Thompson is on the verge of doing more.
“He is extremely explosive,” running backs coach David Johnson said. “After he takes the first two steps, he’s at full speed. He’s able to absorb contact, and he gets most of his yards after contact.”
The only thing that prevented Thompson from ascending earlier was a torn ACL he suffered late in his senior year at St. Charles Catholic. He rushed for 1,583 and 18 touchdowns as the Comets went 15-0 and won the Class 3A state championship, but he needed a redshirt season at Tulane plus a second year before he was a 100-percent healthy.
His effort never was in question. He will race to the end zone in a non-contact running drill if he does not hear a whistle, cherishing every moment on the field.
That’s why he kept running hard against Georgia Tech long after the outcome was decided, picking up 37 yards on his first five carries of the second half and accounting for four first downs.
“I just told his parents on Saturday after the game it’s a blessing to coach a guy like Lazedrick,” David Johnson said. “He makes me better as a coach because he wants to get better as a player.”
Always optimistic, Thompson talks about playing 12 more games this year, counting the American Athletic Conference championship game as well as a bowl. First, though, he cannot wait to wipe the taste of the Georgia Tech debacle from his mouth.
“When you get beat by 50-something points, it takes a toll on you,” he said. “You just want to take revenge out on the next opponent. We are not going to stay down at all. We are going to win the game against Maine and dominate.”
Starting offensive tackle Arturo Uzdavinis practiced Wednesday after missing Tuesday’s workout with a leg injury, and Curtis Johnson said he would play against Maine. ... Wide receiver Terren Encalade (shoulder sprain) missed practice for the third consecutive time, and Johnson all but ruled him out.