Royce LaFrance’s early struggles symbolized Tulane’s defensive frustration in its first two games.
LaFrance, a junior end from Helen Cox High in Harvey, played nothing like the first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection he was supposed to be according to Phil Steele’s college football preview. He did not play at all in the first half against Tulsa after coach Curtis Johnson suspended him for a violation of team policy, and he did not play well in the second half of that game or versus Georgia Tech the following week.
Against Southeastern Louisiana, though, he began emerging from Johnson’s doghouse. Starting at left end, he helped hold quarterback Bryan Bennett to minus-10 rushing yards, his first negative output in 32 career college games.
Not coincidentally, Tulane (1-2) won for the first time after giving up 38 points to both Tulsa and Georgia Tech.
“It just showed us that we can do it, we definitely can,” Johnson said. “Those ends played outstanding — Royce LaFrance, all of those guys just kept him corralled inside and then the tackles pushed the pocket like we asked them to. They were the key factors in the game.”
Those were about the only positive words Johnson has uttered about LaFrance since the start of training camp. After leading Tulane’s defensive linemen with 6½ sacks a year ago, LaFrance responded poorly to the criticism at first before learning to accept the message.
“He’s doing it just to make me better,” LaFrance said. “I finally just took it in and just soaked it all up as coaching. That means that he cares about me. It made me better as a player and as a person.”
LaFrance’s numbers did not stand out against SLU — he had one tackle and one pass breakup — but he never lost contain of Bennett, forcing him to the inside repeatedly.
His new attention to detail appeared contagious.
“What was holding us back (in the first two games) was we were really trying to do too much,” LaFrance said. “We all were trying to make plays instead of doing our jobs, and now we know our responsibilities and what we need to do.”
Redshirt freshman running back Sherman Badie backed up his season-opening 215-yard performance against Tulsa by gaining 80 yards on 15 carries against SLU.
It’s still early, but his average per carry of 9.4 yards is well above the Tulane record of 6.8 set by Harry Wagoner in 1950. For running backs who averaged at least 10 carries (Badie has 33 through three games), the mark is 6.7 (Eddie Price, 1949).
“He can make you miss and make your blocks work even when you may be behind a guy,” tackle Arturo Uzdavinis said. “We knew he was good, but we didn’t know he was this good. He’s been killing it, and if we keep doing our job, he’s going to keep killing it.”
Tulane’s other tailbacks are far behind Badie’s pace, with Lazedrick Thompson averaging 2.7 yards on 26 attempts and freshman Dontrell Hilliard averaging 3.4 yards on 17 carries.
“Lazedrick is a battering ram when we need hard, tough yards,” Johnson said. “Hilliard’s a young kid who’s finding his way. He’ll get better.”
After freshman Andrew DiRocco missed a 34-yard field goal that was not even close against SLU — his third errant kick from inside 35 yards this year — he lost his job security. He is listed as co-No. 1 with walk-on Steven DiRocco on Tulane’s depth chart, and Johnson refused to commit to one of them at his Tuesday media luncheon.
The Wave also likely will have a different kickoff specialist. Walk-on Trevor Simms, who has five touchbacks on 10 kickoffs, injured a leg while making a tackle Saturday.
“I don’t know if (Simms) is going to play or not,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we’ll have some miraculous intervention.”
The other candidates are defensive end Ade Aruna, who kicked off against Tulsa before hurting his groin, and punter Peter Picerelli.