In a season filled with lopsided losses, Tulane played its worst first half during Saturday’s 49-21 loss at SMU on Saturday night in Dallas.
The Green Wave trailed the Mustangs 35-7 after two quarters, getting outgained 335-104 by a team that was 1-9 overall and had picked up its only victory over North Texas.
SMU entered having allowed a nation’s worst 46.4 points per game.
The halftime deficit was Tulane’s largest of the year, surpassing the 28-7 holes the Wave dug itself against Georgia Tech and Houston, and it was the largest under coach Curtis Johnson since it trailed Tulsa and Louisiana-Monroe 35-3 in 2012.
SMU, which went three-and-out on its first two drives, scored touchdowns on its next four series despite starting inside its own 10-yard line on the first two.
Tulane needed to beat SMU and Tulsa to win five games for only the second time in the last 11 years. The Wave went 7-6 in 2013. Its second-best record in that span was 4-8 in 2006, 2007 and 2010.
Another special-teams gaffe
Although Tulane beat Army on a 36-yard field goal as time ran out last week, the norm this year has been monumental special-teams mistakes.
The negativity continued against SMU when Andrew DiRocco’s 41-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter was blocked and returned for a 66-yard touchdown as SMU went ahead 7-0. On the play, guard Jason Stewart was pushed back four yards before the kick, allowing the Mustangs to block it up the middle.
It was the fourth touchdown Tulane has allowed on special teams along with a kickoff return by Duke in the opener, a punt return by Houston and a blocked punt return by Army.
The Wave also has given up two safeties on high snaps that forced the punter to fall on the ball in the end zone.
Tulane’s defense acquitted itself fairly well in the Wave’s first 10 games despite getting almost no help from the offense — but the defense’s biggest weakness was getting off the field on third downs. The Wave ranked 98th nationally, allowing opponents to convert 43.3 percent of the time.
That problem was exacerbated against SMU, which converted eight consecutive third downs to end the first half.
In order, the Mustangs were successful on third-and-3; third-and-5; third-and-2; third-and-goal from the 1; third-and-4; third-and-7; third-and-11; and third-and-goal from the 6.
The Tulane offense, by contrast, went 2-for-8 on third downs in the first half.
Before Saturday, the most yards Tulane had allowed an opposing rusher was 79 yards to Connecticut quarterback Bryant Shirreffs.
That changed in a hurry against SMU. Mustangs freshman running back Xavier Jones had 117 yards.
SMU almost had two players beat the Wave’s season-worst total in the first half. Quarterback Matt Davis rushed nine times for 68 yards and a touchdown before halftime.
The temperature at kickoff was 46 degrees, easily the coldest for a Tulane game this year. ... Taking a page out of Army’s playbook, SMU hurt Tulane with a flea flicker in the second quarter, getting a 30-yard completion off a reverse to set up its third touchdown. ... On its last touchdown drive of the first half, SMU overcame four penalties that cost it 35 yards. ... Tulane was held scoreless in the first quarter for the sixth time, leaving the Wave with 26 points in the opening quarter for the year.