Tulane coach Willie Fritz said he does not dwell on any game for more than 24 hours, insisting on an even-keel approach.
Yet one possession in a disappointing 24-14 defeat to Memphis still irks him.
As Tulane (3-3, 0-2 American Athletic Conference) gets ready for its game at Tulsa (4-2, 1-1) this Saturday, the way a second-quarter drive ended Friday for a struggling offense is serving as a model for what not to do if the Green Wave wants to climb above. 500.
“We’ve got to be mentally tough,” Fritz said. “We can’t have a hold, we can’t miss assignments, we can’t have an alignment error, we can’t have a guy throwing the ball when he’s not supposed to, we can’t have a guy running the wrong route, and we can’t have a guy blocking the wrong way.”
Fritz imagined the hold, but Tulane made just about every other error he mentioned in one crucial four-play stretch that changed the course of the game. Ranked last in the AAC in total offense (and 114th nationally), the Wave cannot compound its inefficiency with unforced mistakes.
The bad sequence occurred just when the Wave appeared to be rolling. After driving 66 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter, the offense ripped off 71 yards in four plays the next time it had the ball.
That’s when things started to go sideways. And backward.
On first down from the Memphis 11, quarterback Glen Cuiellette misinterpreted a call from the sideline and fired toward receiver Trey Scott when he was supposed to hand off to running back Josh Rounds.
“We were just discombobulated,” Cuiellette said. “We had some communication issues on the sideline, and some of my teammates thought they saw a different signal and some said they heard me say a different call. I just have to more vocal in that situation.”
Scott never turned around because he was trying to block downfield.
“I thought it was a run-pass option, but it was not,” Cuiellette said. “We all just have to lock in. That’s what defines the game right there, as little as it sounds. You’re on the 11 and you’re about to score to go up 14-6. You’ve got to capitalize, especially in this league.”
The mistakes mounted. On second down, inside receiver Larry Dace was a yard behind the line at the snap, costing the Wave a 5-yard penalty for having five men in the backfield. Tight end Kendall Ardoin lined up as a blocking back in front of Cuiellette to the left. Receiver Darnell Mooney, went in motion into the backfield to serve as a potential pitch option.
Rounds took the handoff and reached the 8, but the flag nullified the gain.
“We’ve got to line up correctly,” Fritz said. “It’s tough.”
On the next play, Cuiellette threw a swing pass to running back Lazedrick Thompson, who was dropped immediately for a 6-yard loss by linebacker Austin Hall. No one came close to blocking Hall, who lined up 3 yards off the line of scrimmage and about 5 yards outside of left tackle Todd Jacquet before making one of his game-high 12 stops en route to AAC defensive player of the week honors.
The closest player to Hall was inside receiver Terren Encalade, who ran downfield to block a defensive back and whiffed. By that time, Hall already was tackling Thompson.
“When you have missed assignments, it’s like running one less play,” Fritz said. “We have to block the right guy. A missed assignment at the point of attack is disastrous.”
Facing a third-and-21, Cuiellette threw about 5 yards past the back of the end zone to a double-covered Chris Johnson. He never looked for his other two receivers, but Darnell Mooney was blanketed running a drag and Encalade was defended well on an out route.
“Johnson was the guy he wanted to go to and everything was covered,” Fritz said. “Instead of taking a sack and putting us in even worse position, he (Cuiellette) threw it out of there.”
Seconds later, Andrew DiRocco missed a 39-yard field goal, sending it just left of the upright.
Tulane did not score again until the final minute of the fourth quarter, never regaining any rhythm offensively.
“We have to make that kick, but it sure would have been nice to attempt a 21- or 25-yard field goal,” Fritz said. “All we needed was a few yards on those plays. That’s just the evolution of our program and the process of being able to play smart. We’re working on it on a daily basis.”
Running back Sherman Badie, who has not played since getting injured against Southern in Tulane’s second game, practiced Wednesday in a no-contact jersey. Fritz said Badie would be on the travel roster and might play a little at Tulsa, the scene of his career-best 215-yard rushing performance in his debut as a redshirt freshman in 2014.