The one thing Tulane could not afford to do in a matchup of offensively challenged teams in horrible weather was give away points for free.
Yet, in another lost season, that’s exactly what happened, and the Green Wave paid dearly for it.
Connecticut cornerback Jamar Summers returned an interception 67 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter after a miscommunication between quarterback Tanner Lee and freshman receiver Rickey Preston, and the Wave never came close to making up that meager deficit.
Even though the defense shut out UConn, Tulane fell 7-3 during a miserable homecoming rainstorm Saturday at Yulman Stadium.
Tulane, which lost its fifth in a row, will finish below .500 for the 14th time in 17 years and for the third time in coach Curtis Johnson’s four seasons.
“We mishandled the ball throwing it, and after we didn’t throw it well, we had some drops,” Johnson said. “This is probably the most disappointing offense, even in the rain. The defense came to play, and the offense didn’t do much.”
After the Wave (2-7, 1-5 AAC) beat the Huskies (5-5, 3-3) 12-3 in an ugly affair last year at Yulman, the sloppy conditions helped the teams combine for an even uglier performance this time. They combined for 22 punts, 18 first downs and 14 three-and-outs — with both teams contributing equally to all three categories — and neither crossed the opponent’s 15-yard line.
The difference was one mistake.
Preston cut outside and Lee threw inside, giving Summers an easy interception in open field.
“It was a little bit of a miscommunication between Rickey and me, and it’s my fault,” Lee said. “It’s too late in the season for that.”
Summers found the UConn sideline on his return and raced to the end zone, losing the ball just after he crossed the goal line while being tackled.
“I played it well and got some good blocks from my teammates,” he said. “I definitely knew I had to get to the end zone. We needed that.”
Tulane’s lone foray into UConn territory reached the 15-yard line before running back Sherman Badie was dropped for a 5-yard loss, forcing the Wave to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Andrew DiRocco that cut the deficit to 7-3 with 8:28 left in the second quarter.
They might as well have stopped the game there.
Neither team had 100 yards by halftime. UConn finally cracked that barrier on its second possession of the third quarter, getting a 33-yard completion to kick-start a 64-yard drive that ended in a 33-yard field-goal attempt that was blocked by Tulane’s Parry Nickerson.
No worries, Huskies.
Tulane managed four first downs on its final six possessions, and one of them came on a fourth-and-1 fake punt when up-back Robert Kelley bulled his way past the chains. The Wave failed to pick up two first downs on any of its final nine drives.
Tulane rushed for 34 yards on 25 carries, with no run longer than 11 yards. Lee, playing after missing last week’s game at Memphis with a finger injury, was 13-of-40 for 106 yards and was sacked twice.
“We’re searching right now for an answer,” he said. “It’s tough. For the defense to play the way they did, they don’t deserve a loss. It hurts.”
Safety Darion Monroe had a game-high 11 tackles as Tulane limited UConn to a season-low 227 yards. Linebacker Nico Marley added 10 stops, and the defensive line produced five tackles behind the line — all for naught.
“It’s pretty frustrating, but we have to keep working and just pray it’s going to get better,” junior defensive tackle Tanzel Smart said. “We have to keep fighting until the next season. That’s all we can do.” The defense kept stopping the Huskies, then watched the offense produce next to nothing.
In one two-play sequence, wide receiver Devon Breaux dropped a deep pass that him in the chest, then pulled in a deep out from Lee but failed to drag his foot inbounds.
This was not about Tulane killing itself with penalties; the Wave was flagged only two times for 10 yards.
It was an inability to complete a pass or find any room to run.
Johnson had no answers as he tried to assess what went wrong — again — for an offense that has not ranked among the 100 best in college football in any of his four years.
Asked whether he would change the play-caller — offensive coordinator Eric Price — or his personnel, he was noncommittal.
“Right now, I have to go back and watch all the tape,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of thoughts, but before I do anything, I want to sit back and watch the film and see everything that we’re doing.”