Yards and first downs don’t matter in the final score.
If they did, Tulane’s offense would be in much better condition entering the final month of the season.
Instead, the offense is flailing after Tulane (2-6, 1-3 American) failed to reach the 15-point plateau for the fifth consecutive game following its 38-14 loss to Cincinnati on Friday night. Since unfurling quality offensive efforts during its 1-2 start against Tulsa, Georgia Tech and Southeastern Louisiana, Tulane’s offensive production has drastically tailed off.
While turnovers and penalties were early culprits, those are no longer the lingering issues. Instead, Tulane’s drives are simply stalling.
Losing starting quarterback Tanner Lee for two games apparently wasn’t the root of the issue either. Lee returned Friday, against the nation’s 115th-ranked defense, and only led two touchdown drives.
The problem is layered, and if it’s not fixed soon, the Green Wave could be eliminated from bowl contention following Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff against Houston at TDECU Stadium.
“You need to understand field positioning,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “We need to get to the right spots. A couple of times Tanner was looking for guys and again, no excuses, but those guys probably didn’t practice that. When we were practicing red zone, (starting receiver Xavier Rush) got hurt (with a torn ACL). They looked they were a little close together. These young kids will get better in the next game.”
The corner that Tulane’s offense needs to turn doesn’t seem too far in the distance. Tulane matched Cincinnati’s 21 first downs and piled up a respectable 380 yards, averaging 5.6 yards per play.
But scoring on just two of its four trips to the red zone and converting only 3 of 13 third downs doomed Tulane from turning that production into points.
“I think we are seeing glimpses of what our offense is capable of,” Lee said. “It’s just about putting it all together and putting it into the end zone, rather than stalling out. They had a hard time stopping us, but we only scored 14 points. So it’s going to take some film study to figure out what went wrong. Cincinnati was a good defense, and they called a lot of the right defenses at the right times and it made things a little bit of a struggle.”
After consecutive standout performances while splitting contests against UConn and Central Florida, Tulane’s defense took a noticeable step backward against Cincinnati.
Tulane allowed more than 9 yards per play in the first half and missed a bevy of tackles in surrendering 265 rushing yards, highlighted by running back Rod Moore’s 61-yard jaunt in which he bounced off at least five Green Wave defenders.
Missed tackles were to blame for the 17 unanswered points Cincinnati scored in the first half, junior safety Darion Monroe said.
“We missed a whole lot of tackles in the first quarter and first half,” he said. “In the second half, we kind of corrected that mistake, and that showed up a bit. It’s not wrapping up. I had about two or three of them. It’s something I have to do better. I’m not known for missing tackles. I have to make those tackles, and that’s important.”
Tulane defensive end Royce LaFrance said he let his team down Friday night.
The preseason All-AAC selection was noticeably missing from the field during the majority of the first half, staying on the sideline while the Bearcats scored on three consecutive possessions. His absence was particularly troublesome considering Tulane lost fellow end Tyler Gilbert after he was ejected following a targeting penalty on the game’s second possession.
LaFrance, who has six tackles for loss and two sacks this season, only managed a single solo tackle and an assist Friday night. Johnson said LaFrance’s absence was the result of a formational switch rather than something the junior did.
“He was playing, but as soon as we lost Gilbert, we had to go through 3-4 because that’s what we practice all the time,” Johnson said. “He played some, but that was the package he played in during practice all week. Of course we didn’t plan on playing that defense.”