Tulane’s Willie Fritz spread around the blame after the Green Wave’s 56-26 loss at Memphis on Friday night, sparing no one for the 35-0 debacle in the first 20 minutes.
“I told the guys, shoot, you’ve got to look in the mirror,” he said. “I’m disappointed how I executed as a head coach. I’m going to have some long discussions with our coaching staff. There were some fundamental things I was disappointed in. You have to do the same thing as a player. You just can’t have (players saying) ‘my bad.’ We just can’t make those mistakes.”
Beaten physically by the Tigers on both sides of the ball, Tulane (3-5, 1-3 American Athletic Conference) also beat itself mentally, which frustrated Fritz even more. The Wave has to win three of its last four to become bowl eligible, an unattainable goal if the errors keep coming.
“We have to limit our missed assignments,” Fritz said. “We’re just not good enough to have a lot of missed assignments. We have to do a better job of coaching them.”
Nickelback Jarrod Franklin put the responsibility on the secondary. He made a terrific interception that allowed Tulane to score a touchdown on the final play of the first half. He broke up a pass to force a punt on the Tigers’ first series of the second half
But quarterback Riley Ferguson had six completions of more than 20 yards in the first half as Memphis rolled to five touchdowns in a six-series stretch.
When they went up 35-0 with 11:20 left in the half, the Tigers were on pace for 1,300 yards of offense.
“A lot of the problems were guys in the wrong spots in the secondary,” Franklin said. “The secondary played a little off tonight. The secondary had a lot of busts. We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot, to be honest with you. The defensive line played well. The linebackers did their job, but not the secondary, myself included. We’ll look at the busts and go from there.”
On offense, Tulane tried to establish the run early with very little success. Dontrell Hilliard was limited to three or fewer yards on five of six carries in the first quarter as the Wave punted four times while picking up one first down.
After scoring touchdowns on its opening series in four of the first five games, Tulane has come up empty in its three-game skid.
“Memphis did a good job,” said quarterback Jonathan Banks, who completed 15 of his last 25 passes for 203 yards and three touchdowns after missing on his first five attempts. “They are a well coached team. They did a good job controlling the momentum, and we had trouble getting going at first, but we stayed with a positive attitude.”
The schedule lightens considerably the rest of the way. The Wave was not good enough to beat undefeated South Florida or 7-1 Memphis, but Cincinnati and East Carolina, the next two teams on the agenda, had combined for one conference win in eight games entering Saturday’s action.
Houston, which Tulane hosts in it home finale, supplied Tulsa with its lone conference victory.
SMU, which entertains Tulane a week later, will be a heavy underdog in its next three games against Central Florida, Navy and Memphis and could be reeling by the time the Wave heads to Dallas.
As horribly as Tulane played for long stretches against Memphis, the Wave outscored the Tigers 19-0 from the 11:29 mark of the second quarter until 11:16 was left in the fourth quarter, when Memphis recovered a fumble in the end zone.
Banks converted a third-and-5, a fourth-and-3, a third-and-10, a third-and-6, a third-and-10, a third-and-9 and a fourth-and-goal from the 6 with either his feet or his arm during that stretch, connecting with six different receivers, including a well conceived and perfectly executed delay route by tight end Charles Jones on the fourth and goal.
“When they were in man coverage, we were able to take advantage of them,” Banks said. “We just stayed positive that something would get going, and we took it from there.”
If the Wave plays that way from the start against Cincinnati, the season could take another turn.
“We've got to focus on Cincinnati,” Banks said. “Without us beating Cincinnati, we can't go to a bowl, so we'll have faith and just keep going.”
Fritz said he hoped injured center Junior Diaz would return for the Cincinnati game but offered no guarantee. … Memphis averaged 8.8 yards per play to Tulane’s 3.9. … The Tigers had seven sacks to the Wave’s zero.