It was throwback night at Tulane.
Although the flashback only took the Green Wave back to 2013, when seemingly every Tulane win came in the fashion of Saturday’s 12-3 victory over Connecticut.
The reappearance of quarterback Nick Montana, the 2013 starter, accompanied a safe offensive game plan that emphasized security as much as playmaking.
It put the onus of aggression on Tulane’s defense to come up with the rest.
Coach Curtis Johnson pointed to Tulane’s lack of forced turnovers as a culprit in the Green Wave’s downturn from a year ago, when it ranked in the top 10 nationally in turnover margin. Entering Saturday night, Tulane was minus-2 (No. 92 nationally), a result of an offense taking more risks and a defense becoming less aggressive.
On Saturday, an opportunistic Green Wave defense did its best to reverse the trend by forcing a trio of turnovers in its own territory, recorded eight tackles for loss and scored points of its own by racking up a game-changing safety late in the third quarter.
It tied Tulane’s most turnovers forced in a game this season in easily its most impactful performance.
“I thought our defense played outstanding,” Johnson said.
Clinging to a six-point lead Peter Picerelli’s punt pinned the Huskies inside its own 1-yard line late in the third quarter, whetting the appetites of defensive ends Royce LaFrance and Tyler Gilbert, who tore through the goal line to bring down Max DeLorenzo and extend Tulane’s lead to 9-3.
Lorenzo Doss jumped an out route on third down to grab his second interception in the past two weeks, and is now tied for second in Tulane’s all-time interception leaders with Lynaris Elphage at 14 picks. He trails No. 1 Paul Ellis who pulled in his 17th interception in 1971.
On a routine run later in the second quarter, Green Wave safety Darion Monroe stripped Arkeel Newsome and recovered a fumble on the sideline to end a promising drive at the Tulane 32. Defensive tackle Tanzel Smart got in the act at the onset of the third quarter, ripping the ball loose, allowing Monroe to cover another fumble.
All three plays proved to be pivotal in sealing the type of low-scoring, gut-churning win it became accustomed to a year ago.
“I thought we really controlled them,” Johnson said. “The calls were great but the way we executed was really great to watch.”
Andrew DiRocco came through when he was needed most.
The freshman kicker who scuffled by missing four of his first five attempts this season, booted a 38-yard field goal through the uprights, pushing Tulane’s tenuous six-point, fourth-quarter lead to nine.
It was his longest attempt and proved to be the most important conversion of his young career and came just two weeks after Johnson re-opened the position battle, working out backups Trevor Simms and Steven Broccoli.
“I was very proud of DiRocco,” Johnson said. “When it was time to be called up on, he went ahead and did it.”
DiRocco received some useful tutelage from former Groza Award winner Cairo Santos, who used his bye from the Kansas City Chiefs to return to Tulane, where he spoke with the Green Wave’s kickers.
“It was like we won the World Series or the Super Bowl (on the sideline),” Johnson said. “That’s one thing I love about our team is how supportive they are of everyone on our team.”
It didn’t take Montana long to adjust into his newfound role as starting quarterback. The senior, who climbed from third string to starter, competed his first seven passes en route to a nearly flawless opening quarter.
On Tulane’s opening drive, Montana completed all four of his attempts for 53 yards, capped by a 7-yard touchdown pass to Charles Jones II on a perfectly executed play-action fake. It was the Green Wave’s first touchdown pass in three games, after only scoring on the ground in lopsided losses at Duke and Rutgers.
“We played it close to the vest,” Johnson said. “This is maturity. Last year he took the hits and took the sacks, but this year he threw it away when needed and went on to the next one.”
The video board in Yulman Stadium’s south end zone was not operating. The board which serves as the main scoreboard and only visible replay screen was unable to show any images at the game’s onset and the outage continued until the 8:40 mark of the second quarter. The only scoreboards available were all on the East side of the stadium and couldn’t be viewed by the upper deck...Lorenzo Doss’ second-quarter interception by an active player in the Football Bowl Subdivision, nabbing his 14th pick since arriving at Tulane in 2012...Tulane recorded its first safety since Sept. 7 against South Alabama.