Tulane travels to Orlando, Florida, to face defending American Athletic Conference champion Central Florida (3-2, 1-0) on Saturday. The Knights are nowhere close to as good as they were last season when they stunned Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, but they represent a tremendous upgrade on Connecticut, which the Green Wave beat 12-3. UCF has won three in a row after losing close to Penn State and getting blown out by Missouri. Still, the Knights have remained shaky. They needed Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. to fumble out the side of the end zone as he tried to stretch the ball across the goal line in the final seconds of their AAC opener, and they rallied past BYU in overtime after the Cougars fumbled in the red zone with a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter. This game will be a good litmus test for where Tulane (2-4, 1-1) stands in its new league.
The Green Wave did exactly what it needed to do to beat punchless UConn and give itself some hope entering the heart of the AAC schedule. Yet, that conservative formula won’t work against the remaining six opponents, all of which figure to be favored against the Wave. Quarterback Nick Montana, who started 11 games a year ago but began this season third on the depth chart, led a touchdown drive on the opening possession. Tulane then relied on its defense while the offense tried not to mess things up. The only offensive points either team scored after its opening series was a 38-yard field goal by Tulane’s Andrew DiRocco in the fourth quarter.
Safety Darion Monroe bounced back from a subpar performance against Rutgers. He ripped the ball out of the hands of running back Arkeel Newsome, never letting it hit the ground, to halt one UConn drive, and he pounced on a fumble caused by teammate Tanzel Smart to stop another. Monroe finished with six tackles, including one for a 3-yard loss, to go along with his other big plays. Honorable mentions go to defensive end Royce LaFrance, who had two sacks and was responsible for a safety in the third quarter, and senior safety Brandon LeBeau. Playing in the nickel package, LeBeau had the best game of his career with seven tackles — three behind the line. Worth repeating
“The way they executed the defense, it was just magnificent to watch.”
— Tulane coach Curtis Johnson
Keep an eye on
The quarterback picture. Johnson praised Montana for his game management, lack of mistakes and ability to check out of bad plays, but the Green Wave will need more than that to hang with UCF. Redshirt freshman Tanner Lee, who sat out with a shoulder injury, gives the team big-play capability but is also error-prone. If Lee gets another week off, Montana won’t be able to play as conservatively against UCF. He will have to try to make plays downfield.
UConn’s 217 yards was the fewest for a Tulane opponent since UAB managed 193 on Sept. 17, 2011. … Former Tulane kicker and Lou Groza Award winner Cairo Santos might need a residual if DiRocco, who was 1 for 5 on field goals before Santos worked with him on Tuesday and Wednesday, continues to kick straight. DiRocco made a 38-yarder with ease to clinch the victory. … Doss, a junior, is tied for second on Tulane’s all-time interception list with 14, four behind Paul Ellis’ total of 18. … The last time Tulane and UCF played, in 2010, the Knights won 61-14 and scored TDs on the opening play (kickoff return) and final play (interception return).