Tulane’s quarterback quandary marched into its second week without an answer in sight.
Even after the Green Wave’s bye week, Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said he’s still uncertain who will start Saturday’s 7 p.m. game against Connecticut in Yulman Stadium. Incumbent starter Tanner Lee bruised his throwing shoulder in a 31-6 loss to Rutgers, re-opening a position battle that had been closed since the second week of preseason practice.
Lee dressed out for Tuesday’s practice but didn’t take any snaps with the team, allowing Tulane’s staff to get extended looks at sophomore Devin Powell and senior Nick Montana. While Johnson said he hasn’t made a firm decision on which signal-caller is most likely to start, he admitted Montana has done more work with the first team.
“It was about even,” Johnson said. “I think Montana may have had a few more, but I really didn’t count them to see exactly. Both of them had good practices.”
All three quarterbacks were grouped together on the team’s official depth chart, but Johnson said if Lee is available by Thursday, he will start against the Huskies (1-4, 0-2 American).
Montana, who started every game while healthy in last year’s 7-6 season, fell to third string coming out of spring practice and saw his only action of the season in mop-up duty against Rutgers’ backup defense. However, he completed all five of his pass attempts for 18 yards and gave himself a chance to earn the job over the bye week.
“No one wants to be in that situation, but you just have to keep playing,” Montana said. “You can only control what you can control, so we just have to keep going every day with the mindset that you might get a shot. I’m just really excited to get the opportunity.”
Johnson didn’t rule out the possibility of starting Powell either, but said Montana graded out higher than Powell on the Rutgers game film. In two outings off the bench, Powell has completed just 10 of 26 passes for 111 yards.
For now, Johnson is waiting to get a clearer picture on Lee’s medical status before making the decision on which quarterback will be responsible for ending the Green Wave’s two-game losing streak.
“Tanner hasn’t done much thus far,” Johnson said. “We have practiced Nick and Devin a lot, and we are going to play whoever gives us the best chance to win, whether it’s Tanner, Devin or Nick. With either one of those guys I feel confident and comfortable in all three of them and they’ve all won games for us in the past.”
Tulane used its open week to concentrate on itself.
In the midst of a season marred by mistakes and unforced errors, Johnson relished the open weekend as a chance to get back into camp mode. This meant focusing on their own tendencies rather than an opponent and emphasizing practice as a time to improve rather than just prepare.
Tulane matched up the first-string offenses and defenses against each other, rather than the typical scout-team approach. It also cranked up the physicality, allowing full tackling and contact rather than the typical “thud” drills which don’t allow defenders to bring ball carriers to the ground.
“It was great because we worked so much against the ones, which is like playing a game because the intensity is there and you get better by playing the best guys,” senior cornerback Taurean Nixon said. “Since the Rutgers game, we have done a lot of tackling drills, and we had to go back to the basics. We still do a lot of the thud but we have also gone hard on hitting and I think that gets us in the right mentality to come out of this ready to play and get better.”
Trying for turnovers
Last year, Tulane feasted on mistakes, racking up the fifth-best turnover margin in the country.
The Green Wave is currently ranked No. 92 (minus-2) and its record reflects the struggle. However, Johnson didn’t pin the difference on a lack of aggression or a shortage of playmakers.
Instead, he points to the lack of advantageous scenarios, due to allowing too many yards on first and second downs.
“We are not the biggest team in the world, so we feasted last year on turnovers by forcing them into bad situations and forcing them to turn the ball over,” Johnson said. “We haven’t gotten very many of those. We looked at a graphic of that today.
“But if team’s aren’t in long yardage situations, they aren’t pulling the ball away from the center very much and that’s really what helped us a year ago. Now, they’re managing the down and distance against us a lot better.”
ESPN cameras are ubiquitous at the Tulane football facilities this week.
The network’s “All Access” is featuring the Green Wave on its programming next week, taking viewers inside the team’s daily events during a typical game week. The package will air on ESPN channels starting Tuesday.