Coming off the incredible low of a heartbreaking defeat at Tulsa last Thursday, Tulane is getting ready for the ultimate high of its Yulman Stadium debut against Georgia Tech.
After ending Monday morning’s practice a few minutes early because of lightning in the area, coach Curtis Johnson sounded less concerned about jumping over emotional hurdles than with navigating more football-specific issues.
“We have to have our single-minded focus,” he said. “It doesn’t matter about all the hoopla with the new stadium. It’s still 100 yards. We still have to play the game. They are going to play 11. We are going to play 11. That’s the most important thing. It’s not anything without coming away with a victory.”
That’s something Tulane failed to do against Tulsa despite never trailing until double overtime in its 38-31 loss. The Green Wave led 14-0 early, 21-7 right before the half, and was still up 28-20 late in the fourth quarter before the Golden Hurricane tied it with a touchdown and 2-point conversion.
Freshman Andrew DiRocco then missed a potential game-winning 21-yard field goal, a tired defense gave up a touchdown in the second overtime, and quarterback Tanner Lee threw his only interception on the final play.
“That’s a learning experience for us,” Johnson said. “When you look at our team, we have a lot of new faces and we’re playing a lot of young kids, but we just have to learn how to finish some games. I think over the course of time we’ll get there.”
Lee, who was sharp in the first college action until his last pass, dismissed the notion of a hangover effect. In his mind, the excitement surrounding the first on-campus game for Tulane in 40 years negates that possibility.
“When they see us, the students let us know they got their tickets and they are coming,” he said. “Even though we lost last week, they were very positive and supporting around campus, telling us that we played good and we excited them and they definitely can’t wait to come to this next game.”
Johnson certainly sees no carry-over effect for Lee other than the benefit of having gone through a game.
“He’s just cool,” Johnson said. “We’ve got the 24-hour rule, and he’s on to the next one. He did so many good things. I was so impressed with him. It just was unfortunate how it ended, but he’ll get more opportunities. He’ll get a lot of opportunities.”
The Green Wave practiced at Yulman Stadium for the second time Monday, and the rain arrived around the midpoint. The scattered showers, which made the second half of the workout quite wet, could help since rain is in the forecast for Saturday (50-percent chance according to weather.com).
After practicing indoors and playing indoors last year at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Tulane is used to pristine conditions.
“We needed the wet-ball drill and getting guys out there in the rain,” Lee said. “It changes some things, so it was good for us. It just raised the intensity level. Guys were kind of excited because it brought the temperature level down a little bit.”
A nearby lightning strike ended practice early. With no classes on Labor Day, Johnson could have conducted the workout earlier in the morning and avoided the rain, but he welcomed the bad weather.
“We wanted to a least get some wet stuff going,” he said. “We cut it a little bit short, but we’ve done a lot of this stuff yesterday. It was good.”
Aruna kicking off
Tulane’s experiment with 6-foot-5, 247-pound “kicking specialist” Ade Aruna could be on hold for a week.
Aruna, a redshirt freshman defensive end and native of Nigeria, kicked off four times against Tulsa. His second attempt sailed through the end zone. Although he was replaced by punter Peter Picerelli after his last kick went short, Johnson said the change came because he hurt his groin.
Aruna said he suffered the injury as a blocker on the kick-return unit. Resting the injury, he did not kick off in Monday’s practice, but walk-on defensive back Sam Hurley was one of four candidates who did. The coaches were not satisfied with the usual suspects — Picerelli and kickers Andrew DiRocco and Steven Broccoli — in preseason practice.
Aruna enjoyed his initial kicking experience.
“It felt pretty good,” he said. “I didn’t feel any pressure. I’m used to it. I did it in high school. As long as the coaches let me do it, I will do anything for my team.”
Johnson said the most significant injury against Tulsa was to starting cornerback Taurean Nixon, who left after re-aggravating a groin strain that sidelined him for the beginning of preseason camp. Nixon’s 22-yard interception return in the first quarter set up Tulane’s first touchdown.
Johnson said he did not know whether Nixon would be ready for Georgia Tech. Redshirt freshman Parry Nickerson replaced him.
Starting offensive tackle Arturo Uzdavinis did not practice in team drills because of a shoulder injury, but he was in full pads, and Johnson said he could have participated if needed.
Redshirt freshman Sherman Badie’s American Athletic Conference rushing record of 215 yards lasted two days. South Florida true freshman Marlon Mack gained 275 yards against Western Carolina on Saturday. … Tulane will not practice Tuesday, switching its usual day off with Monday because the coaches had unlimited access to players on Labor Day.