PHILADELPHIA — By the time the calendar flips to November, Tulane coach Curtis Johnson figures to know a lot more about his team than he does now.
He just hopes that, by that time, he’ll still be able to recognize his squad. By then, the Green Wave will have completed a daunting stretch against the best the American Athletic Conference has to offer.
Based on what he saw here Saturday — Tulane had the upper hand early, then came apart at the seams while getting blown out 49-10 by unbeaten Temple — it might get worse before it gets better.
The Green Wave’s next three opponents — Houston, Navy and Memphis — were unbeaten heading into the weekend. (Navy did lose at No. 15 Notre Dame.) And those last two games are on the road, which has seldom been kind.
If nothing else, by Halloween, the Green Wave (2-3, 1-1) will have a pretty good idea of how the AAC stacks up. Tulane can only hope it isn’t being haunted by goblins by then.
“It’s murderer’s row,” laughed Johnson, whose team was limited to 110 yards of offense, 19 of them coming when they were running out the clock. “It’s like facing the Yankees in the ’20s and ’30s. But you’ve got to play the schedule. We didn’t know those teams would be undefeated.
“Those guys are playing with confidence, and we have shaky confidence. So hopefully we can start next week and win one or two or three and keep moving.”
Certainly to have any kind of chance, the Wave will need more of a sustained effort than it showed in this one. After taking advantage of two turnovers to grab a 10-7 second-quarter lead, it was all downhill.
Temple responded with a seven-play, 90-yard drive — highlighted by Jahad Thomas’ 28-yard run on second-and-29, followed by Thomas’ 10-yard scoring burst up the middle — to go back up 14-10. The Owls (5-0, 2-0) then cashed in when Tulane’s Zachary Block dropped the ball while trying to punt — the second straight week that has happened to a Green Wave punter — with Thomas having a convoy leading him to the end zone on a 16-yard screen pass to make it 21-10 late in the half.
Still, there was plenty of time for Tulane to shake things off. Instead, the Green Wave saw nothing but red as Temple’s defense poured in on quarterback Tanner Lee. After taking a couple of sacks, Lee began to unload early, which proved disastrous when the Owls picked him off twice, Sean Chandler taking one to the end zone from 22 yards.
“We just had too many mistakes and got kind of down on ourselves and got frustrated,” said Tulane wide receiver Devon Breaux (four catches for 28 yards). “But they’re a very good defense. They play with a lot of high level energy and make very few mistakes.”
It was pretty much the opposite for Tulane, which did get six catches for 43 yards and a touchdown from Teddy Veal.
“When we were up 10-7, we felt we had total control of the game,” said safety Darion Monroe, whose first-quarter fumble recovery — which resulted in a field goal — gave him a school record eight for his career. “After we had that one miscue on special teams when we dropped the punt, morale kind of went downhill. We have a lot of young guys who have to learn how to keep their head in the game. Once something bad happens and we get punched, they don’t know how to get through that yet.
“Down 21-10, we have to come out for the second half with the same enthusiasm we had at the beginning of the game. We didn’t. We came out like we were trying not to lose the game instead of trying to win it.”
The Owls were happy to oblige, becoming the first Temple team since 1974 to start 5-0.
Temple squeaked out a 10-3 win over Tulane in last year’s season finale to finish 6-6, using that to springboard to its current success. Meanwhile, the Wave is barely treading water, with the schedule only about to get nastier.
“I don’t think this is a good representation of what we can do,” Monroe said. “We can play way better than we did today.”