The struggling Green Wave (2-6, 1-3) will have no breathers the rest of the way, traveling to American Athletic Conference co-leader Houston (5-3, 3-1) Saturday for the first of four consecutive games against teams with winning records to close the season. The Cougars started horribly, committing six turnovers while losing to UTSA 27-7 in the debut of the on-campus TDECU Stadium, but they have played much better since Greg Ward Jr. replaced John O’Korn at quarterback during the UCF game on Oct. 2. O’Korn, who threw for 3,117 yards and 28 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2013, had thrown eight interceptions with six touchdowns while completing barely half of his passes. Ward, another sophomore, has connected on 72 percent of his throws with only one interception in a short-passing attack. Houston is third in the AAC in rushing and first in scoring defense, holding its conference foes to 12 points per game.
Do they have to? Tulane could not have played a worse half than it did against Cincinnati on Friday night in front of a national television audience on ESPN2. Multiple breakdowns on offense, defense and special teams led to a 24-0 halftime deficit that left Yulman Stadium mostly empty by the start of the third quarter of a 38-14 defeat. Every decision coach Curtis Johnson made backfired when the Wave was still in the game. Tanner Lee was sacked on fourth-and-goal from the 2 when Johnson eschewed a field goal attempt at the end of the opening drive. Kickoff specialist Trevor Simms, sent in to try the first field goal of his career, barely reached the end zone on a low hook that had no chance from 51 yards. Then, trailing 17-0, Tulane punted on fourth-and-3 from the Cincinnati 40, and Peter Picerelli’s effort reached the end zone on the fly.
Freshman Dontrell Hilliard, a Scotlandville High product, gashed Cincinnati’s weak run defense for 123 yards on 11 carries, including a 45-yard jaunt that set up Tulane’s first touchdown in the third quarter. Hilliard played more because Sherman Badie and Lazedrick Thompson were hobbled by minor injuries, and he made the most of his opportunity, displaying vision, power and speed. Not much has gone right for the inexperienced Wave this year, but it has a talent-laden trio at running back.
“If you look across the country, you’re just not going to see as many true freshman as we have playing. … Freshmen are freshmen. The best thing about freshman is that they become sophomores.”
— Tulane coach Curtis Johnson
Keep an eye on
The development of those freshmen. Johnson wasn’t exaggerating. True freshmen made 19 of the Wave’s 24 catches against Cincinnati, with Teddy Veal grabbing seven for 73 yards. Throw in Badie and redshirt freshman quarterback Lee, and first-year players accounted for all but 80 of Tulane’s passing, rushing and receiving yards. It is hard to win that way, but the Wave needs these guys to play like veterans to beat the tough competition they will face the rest of the way.
Tulane has lost 18 in a row played outside of the state of Louisiana and 10 straight to Houston from 2003 to 2012 when both teams were members of Conference USA. … The Wave scored touchdowns on its first two drives of the second half vs. Cincinnati. Its previous high point total for an entire second half was 10 vs. Tulsa and UCF. … Tulane has forced 21 turnovers, the ninth highest total in the nation.