After yet another blowout loss, Tulane senior safety Darion Monroe said the upperclassmen would do everything in their power to make sure players did not start mentally checking out.
The Green Wave (2-4, 1-2 American Athletic Conference) fell 42-7 to Houston at Yulman Stadium on Friday night for its fourth defeat by 30 or more points this year, matching the school record in that department for an entire season (1999, 2009). It also was Tulane’s 17th loss in its last 23 games dating to the middle of 2013.
“The leaders of the team have to pull the young guys together and tell them we can’t get used to losing,” Monroe said. “You can’t ever get used to losing as a human being in anything. In checkers, I don’t want to lose.”
Houston’s checkers clearly were better than Tulane’s checkers as the 24th-ranked Cougars avenged a 31-24 upset loss from last season — but what frustrated Monroe the most were the self-inflicted wounds. The Wave racked up a season-high 12 penalties for 133 yards.
Junior linebacker Nico Marley was called for two personal fouls, including one on third down that kept a drive alive and ended in Houston’s second touchdown.
Junior defensive tackle Tanzel Smart was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of a play in which Tulane already had been penalized for jumping offside. Underclassmen Quinlan Carroll and Eldrick Washington joined the penalty parade with 15-yard infractions, making it all but impossible for the Wave to hang with Houston.
Tulane also got called for offsides when two players were trying to run off the field at the snap, negating a Houston fumble in the second quarter. The Cougars scored their fourth touchdown on the next play.
“We are making mistakes that you would think freshmen would be making, and it’s older guys making these mistakes,” Monroe said. “That’s something we’ve just got to clean up in-house. Tanzel is my roommate, so I’ll tell him he’s hurting us with fouls like that. We hold each other accountable on defense, and that’s something we pride ourselves on. We’ve got to fix it.”
With Navy (5-1) and Memphis next on the agenda, the Wave is staring at a 2-6 record by the end of October if something does not change quickly.
As lopsided as the losses have been, Houston coach Tom Herman said he saw potential in Tulane.
“This was the best defensive front four that we’ve played all year, including Louisville,” he said. “They were doing a good job. We had a tough time.”
Those struggles did not show up on the scoreboard. With quarterback Devin Powell starting for injured Tanner Lee, Tulane failed to pick up a first down on its first four possessions and picked up more than 23 yards on only one series until garbage time in the fourth quarter. The Wave needed a drive-extending personal foul on Houston and a successful fake punt to score its lone points.
Tulane has finished below 100th nationally in offense in all three years of offensive coordinator Eric Price’s tenure under Johnson, and the Wave is near the bottom of the NCAA in yards again this season.
“You can’t be content when you lose a game like this, but the one thing about the play call is you have to call to what you have,” Johnson said. “We wanted to run it, eat the clock and keep them off the field, and we didn’t do a good enough job of that. I understand why we don’t get wild and wooly and open up and do reverses just because of the guys that we have playing.”
Looking for any sign of progress, Johnson pointed to Tulane’s effort level in the fourth quarter, when former walk-on quarterback Jordy Joseph led a pair of drives into Houston territory and the defense held the Cougars scoreless. He admitted the Wave folded in a 65-10 loss to Georgia Tech and again in a 49-10 defeat to Temple, but he felt this one was different.
“They didn’t quit and they kept fighting,” he said. “Jordy led us down the field and the defense was doing the best they can. I had to pull a couple of starters because they were being a little bit undisciplined. We just have to figure out which guys we want to go to war with and go with those guys.”