MIAMI — Patience is a virtue. Hindsight is 20/20.
When Tulane looks at tape of Saturday night’s 23-10 loss to Florida International at Riccardo Silva Stadium, those clichés might come to mind.
Following junior quarterback Jonathan Banks’ first interception of the year, the Golden Panthers (4-2) capitalized by extending their lead to 13-3 in the third quarter. That’s when the Green Wave turned to what it does best: Run the football.
On a seven-play, 75-yard drive that culminated on senior Dontrell Hilliard’s 12-yard rushing touchdown, Tulane didn’t put the ball in the air. Instead, the offense used all four of its running backs plus Banks to trim the deficit to 13-10 with 5:25 remaining in the third.
Hilliard, who finished with 90 yards to fall just short of gaining 100-plus yards for the fourth consecutive game, found a hole on the left side of the line and broke a tackle before finding the end zone. In doing so, he moved ahead of Jamaican Dartez (1995-98) for fifth in program history with 26 career rushing scores.
“We’ll look back,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said. “A few times we should've stayed on the ground and ran the football and not try to get too cute. But hindsight’s 20/20, isn’t it?”
Tulane entered averaging 293 rushing yards per game — eighth in the NCAA and third in the American Athletic Conference — thanks in large part to a record-setting performance last weekend against Tulsa. Hilliard set personal highs with 175 yards and four touchdowns.
But Tulane couldn’t muster much of anything on offense in Saturday’s first half. FIU (4-2) outgained the Green Wave 264-90 en route to a 10-3 lead. Tulane (3-3) rushed for 81 yards on 18 carries, but the offense ran just 23 plays to FIU’s 41 and trailed in time of possession by nearly nine minutes. Those differences made it difficult to follow the game plan.
Fritz said FIU packed the box and played man coverage, tempting Tulane to take shots through the air. Banks finished 5 for 16 for 36 passing yards, connecting with four receivers. The longest gain went for 25 yards.
“We just didn't hit on some of the big hitters like we did last week and have done so far this season,” Fritz said. “For us to be successful in the passing game, we've got to run the ball effectively, and we just didn't have enough opportunities to do that. We had some big rips, but they were between the 30s and not when we got in the red zone.”
Though Tulane tallied 203 rushing yards by game’s end, Hilliard ran just 12 times — his lowest total since the season opener against Grambling.
Aside from time of possession, Tulane also struggled on third down (2 for 11) and fourth down (1 for 3). The offense couldn’t stay on the field long enough to help itself or the defense.
Fritz said FIU's defense didn't beat Tulane with anything different schematically.
“It wasn’t totally out of the realm of what other teams have done against us,” he said. “Looking back at it, I’m sure we wished we had been a little more patient running the football and (gave) ourselves three downs to get 10 yards instead of a lot of times two downs.”