Offensive coordinator Doug Ruse is unapologetic for Tulane’s run-first mentality under coach Willie Fritz.
The Green Wave (3-5, 1-3 American Athletic Conference), which struggled to get first downs on the ground while falling into a 35-point hole in the first half of a loss at Memphis last Friday, will not alter its approach significantly for Saturday’s homecoming game against Cincinnati (2-6, 0-4).
“We make no bones about it — we run the football,” Ruse said. “That’s what we do. Like we saw last week, when we’re not successful doing that, it could be a rough night. People know we run the ball, and we’re going to try to establish the run.”
Tulane averaged 266 yards rushing in its first seven games, within striking distance of the school’s all-time record of 272.6 set in 1931. The Wave rushed for at least 191 yards in each of those first seven games.
But the Wave had an off night against Memphis, managing just 122 yards rushing. Leading rusher Dontrell Hilliard had 67 yards on 19 carries.
The return of junior center Junior Diaz, who sat out last Friday with an unspecified injury, should help. Fritz said he expected Diaz to play against Cincinnati after he practiced for the first time Thursday, moving fill-in Hunter Knighton back to the bench.
“It’s huge,” Ruse said. “Junior's played very consistent all year long. He's the one who communicates the calls and gets everybody on the same page. We missed him and are glad to have him back.”
Ruse was praising Diaz rather than criticizing Knighton, a graduate transfer from Miami who played every offensive snap at Memphis.
“Hunter stepped in and did a very nice job,” Ruse said. “He plays all positions for us. He got some valuable experience and played pretty well overall.”
Ruse blamed himself rather than Knighton for the errant shotgun snap in the fourth quarter that allowed Memphis to fall on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
Tulane faced third-and-long at its 2-yard line when tight end Kendall Ardoin went in motion and got hit on the leg by the ball before it reached quarterback Jonathan Banks as the Wave tried to get the snap off before the play clock expired.
"I didn't have us prepared for that situation,” Ruse said. “There was a lot going on. There was a momentary stoppage of play while the referees discussed whether or not to review a call.
“In the meantime, the clock was running. The best thing to do would have been for us to call a timeout or take the delay of game penalty. We somewhat panicked, and that's what happens when you panic. That can't happen anymore. That's on me."
The turnover was Tulane’s sixth of the year. Only four teams have committed fewer.
Memphis sacked Banks seven times, but Fritz said the offensive line was at fault for only two of them.
The others came as a part of combo platter of missed block pickups in the backfield, Banks holding the ball too long and the receivers not getting open.
“There was one of those for sure when we (the receivers) just got pinned on the line of scrimmage, and he (Banks) had to eat it,” Fritz said. “It's always a combination. Very rarely is it just one set of guys. Too often the offensive line and the quarterback are the ones that get the blame.”
Cincinnati is last in the AAC with nine sacks in eight games.
Junior strong safety Roderic Teamer returned to practice Thursday and has been cleared to play after missing the Memphis game. Teamer, who also sat out against Oklahoma on Sept. 16, has 25 tackles in six games. He will replace P.J. Hall as a starter. ... Defensive tackle Braynon Edwards, out the past two games with an unspecified injury, practiced with the second unit on Thursday and will be available Saturday. ... Cincinnati dropped the ultimate heartbreaker to SMU in its last game, allowing the Mustangs to convert a fourth-and-26 in overtime to set up a go-ahead field goal. The Bearcats then threw an interception, losing 31-28.