Defensive tackle Tanzel Smart sacked Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch twice in three downs midway through the third quarter Saturday, running Tulane’s tackles for loss to a whopping 10.
One problem. The Green Wave trailed by 17 points at the time and didn’t score until late in the fourth quarter of its 38-7 loss.
Rarely has any team been in an opponent’s backfield all day and had less to show for it than Tulane at its homecoming game.
Tanner Lee threw three interceptions — two of which were returned for touchdowns — and the offense committed five turnovers, sabotaging an outstanding defensive effort against Memphis.
“We had a great game plan,” said safety Darion Monroe, who had seven tackles and one of Tulane’s 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage. “They had a few plays here and there, but we played very well.”
The numbers bore him out. Tulane outgained Memphis 351-334, and 150 of the Tigers’ yards came in the fourth quarter after they already were ahead 31-0.
Quarterback Paxton Lynch, who had completed 65.1 percent of his passes through nine games, was 11 of 22 for 129 yards by the end of the third quarter.
Running back Brandon Hayes, averaging 5.1 yards before facing Tulane, had 13 carries for 39 yards entering the fourth quarter and finished with 47 yards on 17 attempts (a 2.8-yard average).
“(The defense) played outstanding,” Johnson said. “Tanzel Smart was absolutely amazing. Our young defensive line is really beginning to play well.”
The Wave was particularly effective up front. Smart had three tackles for loss. End Royce LaFrance forced two fumbles and had two tackles for loss. True freshman tackle had four stops, including one when he chased down a Memphis receiver short of a first down on third down.
The Tigers converted only 2 of 14 third downs for the game.
“We all did our job,” LaFrance said. “Everybody stood in their rush lanes.”
The offense could not take advantage of any of that help. Tulane’s first 17 possessions ended in 10 punts, five turnovers and two missed field goals.
Still, the defense kept playing hard.
“We have a lot of faith in our offense,” LaFrance said. “We knew if we could keep getting stops and give it back to them, they were going to score. There was no frustration. It’s a team sport.”
Coming into Saturday’s game, Memphis ranked third in the American Athletic Conference in total yards, first in rushing offense and fourth in passing offense. The Tigers left with an easy victory but only 156 rushing yards, their fourth-lowest total of the year, and 178 passing yards, their second-lowest total.
“With their offense, you have to pay attention to your key,” Monroe said. “They do a lot of things with motioning wide receivers to the backfield and a lot of draw plays to the running back. They just do a lot of things that are eye-catching, and if you’re not on your key, they’ll bust a big play. We did a good job playing defense with our eyes.”
Each time they got another stop, though, they had to go off the field and watch the offense make mistake after mistake.
No one pointed fingers. With a little help from the offense, LaFrance expects the Wave to finish strong in its final two games against East Carolina and Temple.
“We’re more mature,” he said. “All the young guys have grown up. They’re playing like last year and we haven’t missed a step. The frustrating part is, we know how good we are. As a team, we didn’t play to our ability today.”