Coming off back-to-back blowout losses, Tulane produced the feel-good performance it oh so desperately needed against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Maine.
The Green Wave did not need to just beat the Black Bears to restore some of its lost confidence. It needed to bury them, and that’s exactly what happened Saturday night at Yulman Stadium. After spotting Maine an early seven-point lead, Tulane won 38-7, scoring its most points since a 45-3 victory against UTEP in 2013.
It was a pretty Tanner Lee touchdown pass here, a long Sherman Badie touchdown there and big plays everywhere.
Finally, the Wave (1-2) wiped away some of the frustration of a season-opening 37-7 home loss to Duke and an embarrassing 65-10 demolition at Georgia Tech.
“We haven’t had any confidence since last year,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “We had a tough ending to last year, and all of a sudden we lose these past couple of weeks to teams that were better than us and our team started looking down and questioning everything. All it took was one or two plays. I hope it gives us a lot of confidence, especially for the offense.”
Badie, a redshirt sophomore running back, scored on a run of more than 50 yards for the third time in his career and added a career-best 51-yard catch, combining for 189 yards rushing and receiving.
Sophomore running back Dontrell Hilliard turned in an 85-yard jaunt, joining Badie from last year as the only Tulane players with runs of more than 80 yards since Jovon Jackson in 2003. Hilliard had his second 100-yard rushing performance with 117 yards on eight carries.
A wide receiver got into the act, too. Teddy Veal used a double move to get 10 yards behind anyone and ran under a 39-yard touchdown pass from Lee, who finished 16 of 27 for 277 yards and watched most of the fourth quarter from the sideline.
When Tulane did not get massive gains, it moved the ball methodically. After going 8-for-29 on third downs against Duke and Georgia Tech, the Wave converted four in a row on a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to take its first lead of the season at 10-7 with 11:55 left in the second quarter.
The Wave scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions in the first half after managing three touchdowns total in its previous five games, dating to the end of 2014.
“It feels good to execute things you worked on all week,” Lee said. “We focused on third-down conversions and finishing drives, and we did that for the most part.”
Maine (0-2) provided modest competition, but the result was not meaningless. The Black Bears trailed Boston College 10-3 with five minutes left in their opener before falling 24-3, and Tulane’s next opponent, two-time defending American Athletic Conference champion Central Florida, lost to FCS squad Furman 16-15 on Saturday.
The first quarter was a little frightening for Tulane. The Black Bears took the opening kickoff and ripped through the Wave for 75 yards on seven plays to go ahead 7-0, gaining 9, 16 and 35 yards on their first three snaps. Then linebacker Eric Thomas was called for offside on a blitz to nullify a third-down incomplete pass, and quarterback Dan Collins scored on a 5-yard keep two plays later.
Tulane settled for a field goal on its first possession.
When the Wave went three-and-out on its next series, and Peter Picerelli kicked a wobbly 34-yard punt to midfield, the concern in the stadium was palpable. At that moment, Tulane had been outscored 109-20 for the year and looked no better than Maine.
“I was very disappointed,” Johnson said. “I wanted to come out on fire, and I asked the defense, ‘Do we want this offense to have the ball, or do you want it?’ They said to a man we want to play defense first, so I let them do what they wanted to, and look what happened. I was like, ‘Golly, here we go again.’ ”
The concern turned out to be momentary.
A high snap sailed over the head of Collins for a 15-yard loss on the next play, leading to a quick punt, and Tulane dominated the rest of the way.
Lee completed 4 of 5 passes to four different receivers on the next drive before running back Lazedrick Thompson took over, carrying five straight times and scoring standing up on third-and-goal from the 1.
Lee converted a third down with a 14-yard pass to freshman Rickey Preston the next time Tulane had the ball. One play later, Badie broke a tackle near the line of scrimmage and raced for a 56-yard score.
“My mindset is always to stay humble,” said Badie, who had only five carries through the first two games after leading the team in rushing last year. “You never know when your name is going to be called, and when it is, you just have to make it happen and do what you’re capable of.”
A little more than two minutes later, Veal ran an out-and-up, and the line gave Lee plenty of time to find him on long scoring route.
Badie added a 51-yard reception in the third quarter, setting up his 5-yard score, and Hilliard tacked on an 85-yard touchdown run down the Tulane sideline a little later.
The result could have been even more lopsided if Tulane had benefited from some close calls. Linebacker Nico Marley thought he had caused a fumble on Maine’s early touchdown as Collins tried to stick the ball over the goal line, but with no camera on the goal line, the replay official refused to reverse the touchdown call on the field.
Maine’s Justin Flores appeared to muff a punt near the end of the first half, and Tulane’s Rob Kelley recovered it inside the 20. The call on the field was that Flores never touched it, and again, the replay angle was inconclusive.
Veal also dropped a perfect pass from Lee that would have been a 62-yard touchdown.
None of it mattered on a night when Tulane rolled up 497 yards and never let Maine inside its 35 outside the opening and final possession.
“We have to be a dominant defense going into conference (play),” Monroe said. “We wanted to get the goose egg tonight, but we couldn’t because we messed up on the first drive. After that, we played fairly well.”
Monroe, back from a one-game suspension, announced his return with an interception in the second half.
“All week, I was messing with Tanner, telling him ‘Deuce is back,’ ” he said; Monroe wears No. 2. “Then I missed a chance for an interception when the ball sailed on me, and the second one I bobbled that one, too. I have to work on my hands this week.”