DURHAM, N.C. — Tulane got a very bad omen just before Saturday’s game at Duke, and it turned out to ruin the Green Wave’s whole afternoon.
When regular long snapper Michael Lizanich pulled a hamstring in pregame warmups, it started a snowball effect that yielded a nightmarish day for Tulane’s special teams.
The result was a 47-13 loss at Wallace Wade Stadium on a day when the statistics could have indicated a close game.
Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said he had never been involved with a game in which special teams had caused it to go so far wrong.
The victory improved Duke to 4-0 for the first time in 20 seasons, and Tulane fell to 1-3 while allowing its most points of the season. There wasn’t even much solace knowing that Duke has won its games by an average of 31.8 points.
“They’re a heck of a team,” Johnson said. “But we’ve got a lot of young kids playing right now, and we made a lot of mistakes. (Lazedrick Thompson) did a good job of running the football. Unfortunately, we had some miscues in the special teams, and I wasn’t confident in that all day. When the first snap went over the guy’s head for a safety, I didn’t think we could do the operation well enough.”
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Tulane was a lot better than the final score showed.
“Tulane did some good things,” he said. “They ran the ball well, and they were better up front than we thought they were just based on tape, but we battled ourselves. ... We played a lot of people, but still 95 snaps, 375 yards and 13 points you call that day a success.”
Tulane, which ran 95 plays and had 28 first downs, had 375 total yards to the Blue Devils’ 437. The Green Wave finished with 215 rushing yards to Duke’s 256.
Thompson led Tulane with 124 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Quarterback Tanner Lee, whose first half was much more effective than his second, was 14-of-35 for 160 yards with three interceptions.
“I thought we came in with a pretty good plan,” said Lee, who was 7-for-12 for 69 yards with two interceptions at halftime. “We started strong, but turnovers and penalties just started to kill us.”
Anthony Boone was 15-of-27 for 181 yards and an interception for Duke, also rushing for 42 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Running quarterback Thomas Sirk added 94 yards and a TD on five carries, and Shaun Wilson had 70 yards and a TD on seven carries. Jamison Crowder added six catches for 119 yards.
The contest started innocently enough for Tulane, which trailed 14-7 after three methodical drives ended in short scoring runs — Sirk and Josh Snead tallying for Duke around a 5-yard score from Tulane’s Dontrell Hilliard.
But with 2:58 left in the first quarter, Matt Marfisi snapped the ball over punter Peter Picerelli’s head for a safety.
Early in the second, Tulane tried to convert on fourth-and-8 from the Duke 21, and Jeremy Cash picked off Lee’s pass.
With less than two minutes left in the half and Duke ahead 19-7, Zavier Carmichael picked off a Lee pass at the Duke 8.
After Tulane cut the lead to 26-13 with 6:57 left in the third on a 4-yard TD run from Thompson, kicker Andrew DiRocco first had a false start and then missed the conversion attempt.
The Green Wave had a chance to cut into the lead late in the third but ran out of downs after Lee hit Xavier Rush for a 7-yard gain on fourth-and-8 at the Duke 24.
And after Duke was forced to punt, the Green Wave’s Teddy Veal muffed a punt at his own 24, and Wilson scored from 7 yards four plays later.
Duke scored on two interception returns in the fourth quarter, the last one capping Tulane’s special-teams woes.
After a bad snap on a punt attempt from the Tulane 26, Rae Marbley recovered the fumble and tried a shovel pass ... which was intercepted by Duke’s Joseph Ajeigbe and returned 12 yards for a touchdown.