Here’s the sure sign a team is in deep trouble: Midway through the second quarter against Tulane on Saturday night, Southeastern Louisiana had 89 penalty yards and 19 yards of offense.
So much for the Lions’ hopes to shock their south-of-the-lake neighbors.
SLU, ranked third in the coaches’ FCS poll and with the real belief it could win, trailed 21-3 at that point and still had not gone forward as much as it had gone backward by halftime, trailing 28-3. The penalty total at that point was 11 flags for 104 yards, and the offense had generated 84 yards on 29 plays.
The Lions lost 35-20 on Saturday night at Yulman Stadium, finishing with 15 penalties for 142 yards.
“That’s on me. I put it on myself,” Southeastern Louisiana coach Ron Roberts said “I obviously didn’t get these guys ready. I can’t believe we were big-eyed or surprised about playing these guys, but we did not play well.”
The penalty parade started on Tulane’s opening possession, when defensive back Harlan Miller jumped offside and defensive lineman Aaron Price grabbed the face mask of running back Lazedrick Thompson.
Those mistakes did not hurt the Lions, who eventually forced a punt. Most of the others killed them.
A false-start penalty helped stopped their second drive after Tulane went ahead 7-0.
A horsecollar tackle by cornerback Jordan Batiste as he tackled running back Sherman Badie added 15 yards to a Tulane drive as the Wave went ahead 14-0.
A personal foul and an interference call gave the Wave 28 yards the next time it had the ball, leading to a third touchdown.
Right before halftime, a roughing-the-passer penalty gave Tulane an automatic first down at the SLU 3, leading to a fourth touchdown with 4 seconds left.
You get the picture. The officials’ yellow fever certainly left the Lions sick.
“I’m not blaming it on the officials,” Roberts said. “Most of them, you could see them when they happened. I don’t know if we got out of ourselves or tried too hard. We did not approach this to be a big game. We said it was just like anybody else. Maybe I didn’t address it enough.”
The flags kept flying — even as SLU made a comeback in the fourth quarter. A long punt return was wiped out by a penalty, and Tulane declined a holding penalty when the Lions trailed 35-20 with five minutes left.
Then Xavier Roberson’s 70-yard touchdown catch-and-run with 1:12 left was wiped about by an illegal block below the waist, ending SLU’s last-gasp chance to create a miracle.
“In my head, we’re scoring and we’re going to go for an onside kick, and we’re going to have a chance to take a couple of shots at this thing, and there we go again,” Roberts said. “We shot ourselves in the foot or we could have walked out with a ‘W.’ We’re our own biggest enemy right now.”
When the Lions weren’t beating themselves, the Wave was beating them at the line of scrimmage. SLU tried to run on its first three plays and netted 5 yards. Its longest gain in the first half was 14 yards, with Tulane stuffing almost every read option while quarterback Bryan Bennett struggled to connect with his receiver.
Bennett, who averaged nearly 23 yards per completion through two games, completed six passes for 48 yards in the first half. He did almost nothing with legs, either, getting sacked twice and having a long gain of eight yards before halftime.
“In the first half, their defensive line got after it,” Roberts said. “We knew were going to have trouble with 77 (tackle Tanzel Smart). The pressure they got in the first half on Bryan got him flustered, and he never really got back on rhythm.”
No one was in rhythm thanks to the penalty-plagued start.
“It was frustrating, but we kept fighting to win,” linebacker Isiah Corbett said. “It’s a 60-minute game. We’ll get it corrected.”