Not much has gone right for Tulane this year, but the defense gave a tremendous effort in a 31-14 loss at Navy on Saturday.
The Midshipmen (5-1, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) who had rushed for more than 300 yards in all five of their games, finished with only 133.
A plan co-defensive coordinators Jason Rollins and Lionel Washington devised at the beginning of the week played out to near perfection. Tulane (2-5, 1-3) used five linemen on each play, with two ends (usually Royce LaFrance and Ade Aruna) flanking tackles Tanzel Smart, Corey Redwine and Sean Wilson, almost completely taking away Navy’s fullback dive with their consistent penetration. The Wave also moved nickelback Jarrod Franklin to safety, replacing true freshman Roderic Teamer in a 5-2-4 alignment.
“Lionel and Jason did a phenomenal job,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “(Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo) our defensive scheme was probably the best he’s ever played.”
Navy had its fewest rushing yards since gaining 86 versus Western Kentucky on Sept. 28, 2013. Against Tulane, starting quarterback Keenan Reynolds had 38 yards on 23 carries. Fullback Chris Swain, who entered with 420 yards on 83 rushes (5.1 average), picked up just 31 yards on 12 attempts.
Navy completed eight throws for 158 yards, finishing with more passing yards than rushing yards for the first time since Sept. 20, 2014, against Rutgers.
The 34 points Tulane allowed was misleading. Navy capitalized on two turnovers to score touchdowns off of 36- and 23-yard drives in the final four minutes.
In what has been a recurring issue, Tulane sabotaged its chance to win with penalties.
A holding call on freshman wide receiver Andrew Hicks on the first offensive snap set the tone, but others were more crucial. A false start on wide receiver Teddy Veal helped turn a second-and-1 at the Navy 29 into a fourth-and-4 at the 32 in the first quarter.
The Wave lined up to go for the first down, but an unintended delay-of-game penalty forced a punt.
Trailing 10-7 late in the first half, Tulane had a second-and-3 at the Navy 21 when a holding call on tackle Arturo Uzdavinis backed up the offense, leading to a missed 49-yard field by Trevor Simms.
Redwine was flagged twice for illegal hands to the face, although on one of them his hands were on the side of a lineman’s helmet.
Tulane, which entered with an average of seven penalties for 71 yards, was flagged nine times for 80 yards.
“The penalties really hurt us again,” Johnson said. “A couple of those hands to the face, when guys are cutting you, you have to get your hands down, but that’s the way it goes.”
No Monroe, big problem
When senior safety Darion Monroe was suspended for the Georgia Tech game, Tulane allowed 439 rushing yards in a 65-10 blowout. Monroe, who sets the defense before the snap, went out for two plays with a minor injury against Navy. The Midshipmen immediately hit a 36-yard pass and scored on a 9-yard run by Quentin Ezell to go ahead 17-7 with 5:23 left in the third quarter.
“He (Monroe) is so smart and he’s just a great athlete,” Johnson said. “He’s been phenomenal for us all year, and he played a whale of a game.”
When a team is struggling, little things end up hurting big-time.
With Tulane trailing 10-7 in the third quarter, running back Sherman Badie was marked just shy of a first down as he went out of bounds on a reception at the Navy 34. A replay review let the call on the field stand — he appeared to get to the 33 for a first down — and running back Dontrell Hilliard then was stuffed for no gain on fourth down.
Trailing 17-7, Tulane drove 72 yards to the Navy 2 when Badie was marked maybe a centimeter short of the first down after a measurement. Quarterback Tanner Lee tried a sneak on the next play and lost a fumble.
“We just needed some momentum offensively,” Johnson said. “When you get (called short) an inch here or an inch there, the team gets a little bit down.”
Tulane’s October gauntlet against the best of the ACC continues against 18th-ranked Memphis next Saturday. Memphis, Navy, Houston and Temple are a combined 26-1. ... Backup quarterback Jordy Joseph’s TD pass to tight end Charles Jones with 26 seconds left — the first of Joseph’s career — allowed the Wave to surpass 10 points for only the third time in 10 games. ... Tulane outgained Navy 386-291. ... The Wave failed to force a turnover for the first time this year and only the third time in three seasons.