The Tulane offense woke up from a nearly season-long slumber to score three touchdowns Saturday against Army.
Quarterback Tanner Lee and company also executed a flawless two-minute drill to set up a game-winning field goal as time ran out.
With defensively challenged SMU (NCAA-worst 46.4 points per game allowed) and Tulsa (532.4 yards per game allowed) next on the schedule, the offense has the opportunity to really get rolling.
The Mustangs (1-9, 0-6 American Athletic Conference), who host the Green Wave at 7 p.m. Saturday, have given up at least 38 points in all nine losses.
Just about everyone has run on SMU. James Madison of the FCS gained 440 yards on the ground in a 48-45 victory over the Mustangs. Navy rushed for 403 yards last week, and Baylor and East Carolina reached the 300-yard mark.
Tulane, though, has not picked up 150 rushing yards since its Oct. 3 victory against winless Central Florida.
“We just have to continue to get better and do what we do,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “We have to run the ball. That’s the one thing I’ve preached all year, and we have to make timely throws.”
Look for Dontrell Hilliard, whose 515 rushing yards are more than double anyone else on the team, to get a heavy workload. No Tulane back has gotten 20 carries in a game this season, but that stat could change Saturday in Dallas.
“He’s great to have back there with us,” Lee said. “I know he’s going to make some plays. He’s made some outstanding plays out of nothing, and he can do things in the pass game as well. He’s been playing great.”
Fingering the problem
Lee was off target for most of the day in Tulane’s 31-28 win against Army, completing fewer than half of his passes (14 of 29) for the second straight game as he continued to play through a broken middle finger on his throwing hand.
Still, he made enough plays to help the Wave win — including a perfect strike to Teddy Veal for a 90-yard touchdown and three pivotal completions on the final drive. He finished with two touchdown passes for only his second multiple-TD game of the year.
“Absolutely it’s hurting him,” Johnson said of Lee’s finger. “Tanner will never have an excuse, but we know what it is. It’s a bad, unfortunate injury. He’s a competitor. He wants to play and he gives us our best chance to win.”
Tulane is 3-5 with Lee as a starter this season.
Kudos for the kicker
For the first time since Cairo Santos left in 2013, Tulane picked up an AAC special teams player of the week honor, thanks to sophomore kicker Andrew DiRocco’s 35-yard field goal on the final play against Army.
Demoted to the second team twice in the preseason when he struggled to make kicks in practice, DiRocco has converted all seven of his field goals and 21 of 22 extra points. He barely made half of his field goals (8 for 14) as a freshman.
“He’s cooled down a lot,” Johnson said. “He was the one special-teams guy I thought I would have to remove coming into the season, and all of a sudden he’s a big plus for us. He’s been sensational.”
None of DiRocco’s kicks has been longer than 37 yards, but Tulane will take his accuracy from close range. Last year, he missed five field goals from inside 40 yards.
“After the couple of days when I put him on second team, he came back and has played well ever since then,” Johnson said. “He hasn’t let me down yet this year.”
The best news for DiRocco is he did not get injured in the post-kick celebration against Army. Guard Chris Taylor jumped on top of him, and about a dozen teammates followed suit in the dogpile.
“I wasn’t worried about the kick on the sideline,” defensive end Royce LaFrance said. “I was just ready for that celebration and to jump on DiRocco and try to hurt him.”
He was joking.
Tulane will practice at the Saints indoor facility Wednesday morning because of expected heavy rain in New Orleans. The Saints are on their bye week and not practicing. ... Johnson said he hoped to get three injured players back before the end of the year, listing cornerback Richard Allen (concussion protocol), defensive tackle Eldrick Washington (ankle injury) and linebacker Eric Thomas (foot issue) as day-to-day. Thomas missed his first game of the season against Army after starting eight times. Allen has missed three straight games. ... Tulane’s 80 tackles for loss rank first in the AAC and eighth nationally.