Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee practiced Tuesday, but it’s still unclear whether he will play at Navy on Saturday as the Green Wave continues it gauntlet against top-rung American Athletic Conference teams.
One thing is very clear: The Wave needs him desperately.
With Lee sitting out the Houston game because of a concussion, which he suffered six days earlier at Temple, backup Devin Powell went 11 of 28 for 88 yards in Tulane’s 42-7 loss.
Powell produced zero first downs on the first four possessions, and only two of his 13 series lasted more than four plays before he left in favor of former walk-on Jordy Joseph in the fourth quarter.
Lee has not passed Tulane’s concussion protocol yet and cannot be involved in any contact until he does.
“I’ve been on my hands and knees every night praying for that more than anything,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “He’s progressing well. He did some work with the (starters) today and really threw the ball well.”
Lee, a third-year sophomore from Jesuit, threw seven touchdown passes and only two interceptions in Tulane’s first four games. He struggled against Temple, tossing bad interceptions on two consecutive series in the third quarter, but Johnson believed he already was banged up by then.
Tulane’s medical staff removed him from the game late in the third quarter after diagnosing the concussion.
“It’s not 100 percent we’ll get him back, but I feel confident,” Johnson said. “I loved what he was doing today. I’d love to see him in that game.”
Tulane (2-4, 1-2 AAC) is a 23-point underdog against Navy (5-1, 2-0), which is coming off an open week following a 41-24 defeat at Notre Dame. The Midshipmen average 335.4 rushing yards — third best in the country — and won their first AAC home game 45-21 against East Division contender East Carolina.
Tulane has lost its past two games by the combined score of 93-17 to undefeated Temple and Houston. Without Lee, it likely will be another long day for the Wave in Annapolis, Maryland, with a trip to No. 18 Memphis looming after that one.
“As we started the season, the one thing we preached about was keeping our kids together through this stretch,” Johnson said. “We thought we could steal maybe one or two of these games. We knew we were going to struggle, but we’re not satisfied with how we played. We have to play better.”
Powell may not even be available. On Friday he said he suffered an arm bruise that affected his accuracy in the Houston game, and he did not practice Tuesday.
His first start in two years did not go as planned. He beat East Carolina and Tulsa in relief of an injured Nick Montana in 2013 before falling to third string last season behind Lee and Montana.
“He got us in the right plays, but he really struggled with a lot mightily,” Johnson said. “A couple of years ago against East Carolina, he played outstanding.”
Joseph, a senior who had thrown two career passes before Friday, worked with the second unit Tuesday while redshirt freshman Glen Cuillette directed the scout-team offense. Joseph completed a 51-yard pass to Devon Breaux on his first attempt Friday night, leading a 13-play drive before turning the ball over on downs.
By then, the Wave was assured of its fourth loss by 30 or more points in six games, tying a school record for a full season.
Lee or no Lee, Tulane’s first task is making sure it does not check out emotionally. Having lost 65-10 to Georgia Tech, the first triple-option team it faced, the Wave gets a chance to redeem itself against Navy’s version.
“We have to have great practices,” senior safety Darion Monroe said. “He have to have the right mind frame at practice and basically do our job. If we are confident with the game plan, we will go in there with confidence and play awesome.”
Running back Lazedrick Thompson (sprained ankle) did not practice and is danger of missing his third consecutive game. ... Nathan Shienle, who started 17 straight times at center dating to the beginning of 2014 before missing the Houston game with an arm injury, returned to practice as a backup guard. Redshirt freshman Junior Diaz was the first-team center. ... Johnson said backup defensive tackle Eldrick Washington was not kicked out of the Houston game after drawing a flag for getting in a referee’s face. Johnson removed him, saying he could not tolerate that type of behavior.