After reviewing the video of Tulane’s 7-3 loss to Connecticut, coach Curtis Johnson said the play calling of offensive coordinator Eric Price was not an issue in the dismal performance.
He fingered just about everything else, including the injury quarterback Tanner Lee tried to play through after missing the Memphis game, and focused on the poor production from his receivers.
Tulane threw 40 passes and ran only 25 times in the rain because the coaches thought that was the best approach against UConn’s stout front and standard zone coverage.
“This game was less (about bad) play calling than maybe some of the other ones were,” Johnson said. “I just thought we had some open opportunities, and my biggest disappointment was the kids didn’t catch those balls. There were just too many drops. There were four of five drops that could have been touchdowns. Those are plays you have to make. I don’t care if it rains or not.”
Sophomore wide receiver Teddy Veal, held without a catch for the first time in his career, dropped a third-down pass that would have gone for at least 20 yards.
Running back Dontrell Hilliard mishandled a short pass with plenty of open space in front of him on another third down.
Wideout Devon Breaux missed big opportunities on consecutive plays in the second half. First, a pass quarterback Lee threw up for grabs bounced off his chest. Breaux then caught a deep out and landed on the sideline when he had plenty of room to drag his foot inbounds.
“That was very disappointing,” Johnson said. “You should know where you are on the field all the time, and we didn’t get it done. If you want to be a player in a successful offense, those are the plays that need to be made.”
All three drops forced three-and-outs as Tulane punted more times (11) than it picked up first downs (nine), continuing a season-long trend. The Wave ranks 123rd nationally in scoring, 124th in yards, 115th in pass efficiency, 121st in rushing and 116th in third-down conversion percentage.
Those numbers have been the norm for Johnson’s four-year tenure, with Price never presiding over a unit that ranked higher than 107th in yards. With nine starters returning from 2014, the Wave hoped to make a huge leap this season.
Instead, the offense has been stuck in the same rut, with Saturday’s performance setting a new low. Tulane’s defense shut out Connecticut, and the Wave even outplayed the Huskies on special teams, but the only touchdown came on an interception return by the Huskies.
It was quite a comedown after the offense showed some life in Lee’s last start against Navy, producing 386 yards and 21 first downs.
“We had a decent showing against Navy in a game we should have won in my opinion. And to not get anything done against UConn is terribly disappointing,” Lee said. All we can do now is make sure that doesn’t happen again. It was a tough, tough loss, but we had a good practice today and are excited for this week.”
Johnson said Lee, who was a career-worst 13-of-40 for 106 yards, threw better in practice Tuesday than at any time since he got hurt against Navy.
“He started off playing pretty decent against UConn, but then after a while, he didn’t throw quite as well,” Johnson said. “Part of it was the rain and part of it was the injury. We did consider playing other people to give him a break, but we thought he would get it back.”
He ended up on his back several times in the second half as Tulane had protection breakdowns. On one play, a defensive end split a double team to drop Lee in a hurry when guard Chris Taylor barely touched him and tackle Todd Jacquet did not lay a hand on him.
It’s frustrating,” Taylor said. “We all feel like we know what we’re doing, but sometimes we’re not all on the same page.”
The only personnel change Johnson anticipates for Tulane’s game at Army (2-7) on Saturday involves fewer young receivers on the field. Freshmen Rickey Preston and Andrew Hicks, neither of whom caught a pass, likely will sit out in a favor of Veal, Breaux and Larry Dace.
The turnaround, he insisted, involved better execution.
There are still a lot of kids on our offense that have two more years to play,” he said. “These young guys are going to get better, and in the time to come, we’re going to be good.”
Johnson said middle linebacker Eric Thomas, third on the team with 57 tackles, likely will miss the Army game because of a foot injury. Rae Juan Marbley will replace him as a starter. … Cornerback Richard Allen is questionable with an ankle injury, and running back Lazedrick Thompson probably will be out with a recurring ankle problem. … Defensive tackle Corey Redwine is undergoing concussion protocol, but Johnson expects him to be back.