MIAMI — The most surprising element of Tulane’s 23-10 loss to Florida International on Saturday night might have been all the missed tackles.
Coach Willie Fritz personally runs tackling drills every day in practice, and it had been a Green Wave strength for his first year-plus in New Orleans. This time, FIU players repeatedly got positive yardage after the first hit, including the clinching first down that allowed the Panthers to run out the clock.
“We did a really poor job tackling,” Fritz said. “Too often the first guy in was trying to strip the ball instead of tackling the guy. We’ve been pretty good at that, but we missed guys tonight.”
Tulane safety Rod Teamer said the defense was caught off guard by some of the plays FIU ran, including some read option they had not seen much in film study.
“No one is going to dwell on this game,” he said. “It hurts. We feel like we should have come out here and won, but we have to move on.”
Tulane defensive end Eldrick Washington injured his right leg on the opening series and did not return, failing to put any weight on it as he was assisted off the field by two trainers.
Washington, a fifth-year senior, has started every game this year and had six tackles in the first five games.
True freshman Cameron Sample replaced Washington and made five tackles. Sample, who had 12 stops entering the game, also deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage that cornerback Tre Jackson intercepted, but the Wave had little depth behind him without Washington.
“It (not having Washington) hurt,” Fritz said. “He’s a good player.”
Tulane, which had committed two turnovers through its first five games, matched that total in the second half.
Quarterback Jonathan Banks threw an interception on the opening possession when he scrambled and launched a deep pass right to FIU Brad Mohammed after a receiver fell down.
In the fourth quarter, Banks had the ball pop out of his hands as he tried to throw, and the Panthers recovered.
FIU converted both mistakes into field goals.
Tulane also forced two turnovers, getting an interception from cornerback Parry Nickerson in the end zone to stop FIU’s opening drive and Jackson’s pickoff a little later.
FIU was the third of four first-time opponents for Tulane this year, joining Grambling, Oklahoma and South Florida.
The Wave beat Grambling 43-14 in its opener at Yulman Stadium, lost at Oklahoma 56-14 and will host South Florida next Saturday. The Wave and Bulls did not play each other in Tulane’s first three years in the American Athletic Conference.
Almost nothing that came out Miami was good for Tulane, but the Wave received good news elsewhere.
Navy’s loss at Memphis and Houston’s loss at Tulsa left no one undefeated in the AAC West. Other than Tulsa, which is 1-2, every team has one loss.
Navy (3-1) has the most wins, followed by Memphis and Houston with two and Tulane and SMU with one.
The Wave ends the year with six consecutive games, getting Houston at home and Memphis and SMU on the road among West contenders.
Redshirt freshman Tre Jackson had his first career interception in the second quarter. ... On its lone touchdown drive, Tulane had five players with a carry — Banks and running backs Dontrell Hilliard, Sherman Badie, Darius Bradwell and Stephon Huderson.