Go to the Next Level on the Tulane-Army matchup: Here’s what the Green Wave hopes to get out of RB Lazedrick Thompson _lowres

Advocate file photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ -- Tulane running back Lazedrick Thompson slips through a hole for a first down in the first quarter while Southeastern Louisiana defensive back Derrick Raymond (4) linebacker Drew Misita (20) and defensive lineman A.J. Bowen (45) try to defend at Yulman Stadium in 2014.

The Next Level: Tulane wants to get its power back, Lazedrick Thompson, back in the game

Even though he has not totally recovered from a sprained ankle, Tulane running back Lazedrick Thompson will play early against Army on Saturday to gauge his effectiveness.

It’s come to that for the Tulane offense: With nothing else working, the coaches might as well see if a gimpy power runner with three carries since September can help them end a five-game losing streak.

Among a multitude of issues, the Green Wave’s inability to pick up first downs on third-and-short probably is its most glaring concern offensively.

Thompson failed on the first third down of the season, getting surrounded in the backfield by Duke for a 2-yard loss that set the tone for Tulane’s terrible performance the rest of the way. When healthy, though, he remains the Wave’s best option in those situations — a 219-pound physical player with a straight-ahead style.

“When he’s not on the field, you have to call plays that Dontrell (Hilliard) and Sherman (Badie) are familiar with, and some of those plays are wide plays,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “We just have to block it better and continue to run it and get those tough yards. That’s what we’ve had in the past with Orleans Darkwa and Lazedrick.”

The numbers support Johnson’s assertion. After getting first downs on six of eight situations when needing 2 or fewer yards before Thompson got hurt in week 3 against Maine, Tulane is a miserable 6 for 21, with two of the conversions coming on the final possession of a 41-13 loss to Memphis.

When the Wave tried to run, it failed to convert 11 consecutive times before Rob Kelley gained the necessary yardage on the meaningless drive against Memphis.

Those drive-killers have defined a struggling offense.

Thompson carried a team-high 32 times until he suffered his first sprained ankle. He tried to play in the next game against UCF but left after one carry when he sprained his other ankle, an injury that forced him to sit out four weeks. He did not look close to full strength upon his return against UConn, carrying twice for minus-4 yards.

Against Army, the Wave will hope he makes a magical recovery.

“I’m going to give him the ball early in the game to see if he can do something,” Johnson said. “He has to do something. It’s been nine weeks almost.”

Four Downs

1. Third triple option

Only six FBS teams operate out of the old-fashioned, run-based triple option, and Army is the Green Wave’s third such foe this season. After getting run over by Georgia Tech with senior safety Darion Monroe suspended, Tulane went to a five-man front and held Navy to a season low for rushing. Army has no playmaker like Navy QB Keenan Reynolds, Tulane should end its five-game losing streak

2. Get out of the funk

It is not supposed to rain, so Tulane has no built-in excuses for another dreadful offensive performance. Army has been decent at times defensively, holding Penn State to 264 yards in a 20-14 loss, but the Black Knights gave up more than 400 yards in losses to Fordham, UConn and Rice. Look for Tanner Lee to go downfield more often as the Wave tries to create something positive.

3. Forgettting history

The Army game has been a house of horrors for Tulane at home and on the road lately, ranging from a debacle at Tad Gormley Stadium when Tulane lost 44-13 to a winless team in 2008 to a 41-23 defeat at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2010, when the Wave fumbled away back-to-back kickoffs, to a 45-6 whipping at West Point in 2011 that caused a near-mutiny in the locker room.

4. So special

We haven’t seen this in a few years, but the Wave is coming off a strong performance against UConn. Andrew DiRocco, 5 for 5 on field goals this season, kicked a 37-yarder in the rain. The Wave also improved to 3 for 3 for the year on fake punts, had a strong effort from freshman punter Zach Block and covered well. Army is mediocre across the board in special teams, so this is a rare opportunity.