New-look Tulane bore far too much resemblance to the team that ended 2014 by losing its final three games in ugly fashion to finish 3-9.
In its 2015 opener against Duke, the Green Wave had the same offensive woes and suffered the same special teams blows that sank last season. Only this time, the Wave could not run, either, falling 37-7 as a 7½ point underdog Thursday night at Yulman Stadium.
The hardest part is making sure the carry-over effect does not extend another week. Tulane plays at defending ACC Coastal Division champion Georgia on Sept. 12.
“We kind of just ended it right there in the locker room,” sophomore quarterback Tanner Lee said. “We said we’ve gotta fix it, and we have to fix it now. We’re fortunate it’s early in the season. We had glimpses and need to put it all together next week. We have to watch the tape and see the little things that went wrong. I don’t think we lost any confidence. I’ve still got all the confidence in the world in my receivers, and I’m still excited about the season.”
Still, Tulane exited Yulman with plenty of questions and few answers on offense or the kicking game. The Wave failed to convert a third down in the first half and extended a touchdown-less streak to 37 drives dating to last season before reaching the end zone in the fourth quarter.
“They were just a good defense, and good defenses don’t let you get into rhythms and don’t let you do a lot of the things you want to do,” Lee said. “They have an experienced secondary and are a sound team. We had a plan, and there’s worked better than ours. We just didn’t play good enough. They were bringing a lot of blitzes on third down, and we had plays on that we just weren’t executing.”
Unlike last year, when Tulane ran for 231 yards in a 47-13 loss to Duke, the Wave could not even fall back on its running game. Its longest gain on the ground was 11 yards, and no one other than Sherman Badie rushed for more than 5 yards on a play.
“Our defense had a really good plan,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “We worked really hard against some of the things they had hurt us with last year. It starts with our front. We won the battle of the line of scrimmage.”
The Blue Devils also dominated in the kicking game for the second year in a row as Tulane made four crucial mistakes.
The Wave jumped offside on a Duke punt deep in its own territory, giving the Blue Devils a first down they converted into a field goal as time ran out in the first half. Michael Lizanich dribbled a punt snap that handed the ball to Duke deep in Tulane territory, setting up a touchdown.
“He just said, ‘Coach, my fault,’ ” Johnson said. “Well, it can’t be your fault. (Upback Robert Kelley) was still calling the signals. We would have been fine, but (Lizanich) needs to be more patient.”
Returner Devon Breaux then fielded a kickoff with his knee on the ground at the 1-yard line. After he redeemed himself with a 76-yard touchdown catch, Duke ran back the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a score.
A year ago, Tulane ranked last nationally in Phil Steele’s special teams rankings, but even then the Wave did not allow a return for a score.
“We have a lot of speed and put a lot of young kids on special teams, and they just ran out of their lanes,” Johnson said. “It was almost like the floodgates were opened. I may have been able to score on that one. We are going to re-personnel those teams. We just have to play more starters on special teams.”