MIAMI — A sleepwalking first half at Florida International officially put Tulane on letdown alert.
The Green Wave never really woke up.
FIU dominated both sides of the ball, winning 23-10 on Saturday night at Riccardo Silva Stadium against a Tulane team that denied it had gotten too giddy after a big win the week before.
The Wave tattooed Tulsa 62-28 at Yulman Stadium a week earlier — but on Saturday against FIU (4-2), Tulane certainly lacked the same energy.
“I hope not,” coach Willie Fritz said about the Wave having a hard time coming down from that high. “You can’t sit around and pat yourself on the back when you play well and you can’t dwell on the negatives either. We have to move on from this game, too. It’s just disappointing.”
Very little went right all night for Tulane (3-3), which was outgained 438-239, was held to single-digit passing yards until its final possession and never led in a discouraging performance that halted any momentum.
It was a nonconference letdown for the Wave, which hosts undefeated South Florida in prime time Saturday at Yulman Stadium.
Tulane was a double-digit favorite on the road for the first time in 13 years, and ESPN guru Chris Fallica picked the Greenies as one of his three best bets to cover Saturday morning.
Whether it was listening to that type of praise or not, the Wave threw away a chance to get to 4-2 for only the fifth time in the past 42 years — in large part because it could not complete a pass.
Junior college transfer Jonathan Banks finished 5 of 16 for 36 yards with an interception and a lost fumble, failing to generate any consistent offense.
Aside from running back Dontrell Hilliard, who gained 90 yards on 12 carries, Tulane had little working.
“There are a few times we should have just stayed on the ground and run the football and not tried to be too cute,” Fritz said. “Hindsight’s 20-20, isn’t it?”
Tulane’s defense struggled against the most balanced offense it has faced this year. FIU threw for 220 yards and ran for 218, moving the ball well behind the senior trio of quarterback Alex McGough (17 of 31 for 220 yards), receiver Thomas Owens (six catches, 152 yards) and running back Alex Gardner (20 carries, 79 yards).
“Nobody overlooked this team,” safety Roderic Teamer said. “We had a great week of practice, but things just didn’t go our way tonight. Being on the field gets demoralizing when they convert third down after third down.”
Tulane had one shot in the second half, pulling within 13-10 on an all-run, 75-yard drive and forcing a three-and-out a minute later.
But the Wave went three-and-out as well when Banks was tackled one yard shy of a first down, and FIU responded with its own 78-yard touchdown drive, all on the ground.
Tulane was outgained 264-90 in the first half, giving up three consecutive long drives to start the game. All-American Athletic Conference cornerback Parry Nickerson, who barely had been tested in the first five games, gave up two big receptions Owens as FIU targeted him repeatedly.
The Panthers scored their lone first-half touchdown when McGough slipped out of defensive end Ade Aruna’s grasp, scrambled to his left and threw a jump ball to tight end Pharoah McKever, who fought off nickelback Jarrod Franklin for the ball in the corner of the end zone.
That play allowed FIU to go up 7-0, and the Panthers added a field goal for a 10-3 lead on their next possession — a 15-play, 78-yard exhibit of textbook execution that ended at the Tulane 5.
“They came out and had some wrinkles that we hadn’t seen all week that they really confused us with,” Teamer said. “We had to make a lot of halftime adjustments, and it’s hard to play on the run. It’s a lot easier when you know what your opponent is going to do, so hats off to them for that.”
Tulane’s offense was not any better. Back-to-back plays went backward on the Wave’s opening series. The Panthers almost intercepted a Banks pass right before kicker Merek Glover gave the Wave its only points of the half on a 35-yard field goal.
With Tulane in scoring range again the next time it had the ball, an errant shotgun snap sailed past Banks for a 20-yard loss that forced a punt.
On the next series, Banks was sacked on fourth-and-3 from the FIU 19.
The mistakes kept coming in the second half. Banks threw an interception and lost a fumble. Returner Devin Glenn put his knee down a the 2-yard line trying to pick up a kickoff