If the problems that plagued Tulane in losses to Wake Forest and UAB had a root cause, offensive coordinator Doug Ruse says he already would have fixed them.
As it is, he knows only one solution for an under-performing group that has fallen short of expectations despite having multiple playmakers — intense focus in practice.
A good week of preparation may not help the Green Wave (1-2) when it heads to fourth-ranked Ohio State (3-0) on Saturday, but the benefit could come down the road in eight American Athletic Conference games.
“We’ve just got to play better across the board,” Ruse said. “I have to do a better job. Every position has to do a better job. You can analyze the thing and point to a reason (for the issues), but it’s not that simple. You go to work.”
Playing his second season at the same school for the first time in his career, quarterback Jonathan Banks entered with soaring confidence, but his accuracy has plummeted.
In the final two games of 2017, he completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 563 yards.
Through three games of 2018, he is completing 48.1 percent for 651 yards, and he bottomed out against UAB. He was sacked five times, lost two critical fumbles, threw his first interception in 97 attempts and completed only 7 of 26 passes. The completions included a deflection at the line of scrimmage that was caught by receiver Jaetavian Toles and an option pitch to receiver Darnell Mooney that happened to go forward.
Banks was not made available for interviews after Tuesday’s practice, but safety Roderic Teamer defended him.
“We understand JB is out there trying to make a play, so nobody got down on him or anything like that,” Teamer said. “We tell him to keep his head up, keep trying to make plays and keep fighting.”
Ruse agreed the criticism should be spread around.
“It was a total group effort,” he said. “JB was off target. He had some guys open and couldn’t quite hit the spot. He was flushed out of the pocket at times, forcing him to create. He’s got to play better. Everybody’s got to play better.”
Aside from Mooney, Banks has not gotten much help from his receivers. In the last two games, Mooney’s 10 catches 234 yards and three touchdowns exceeds the combined total of his teammates (9 catches, 136 yards, zero scores).
“If they are playing man-to-man, you have to be able to beat it,” Fritz said. “Particularly to have a chance to throw the route, you’ve got to beat the press pretty quick. We have to do that.”
The ground game has been sporadic as well despite the presence of Corey Dauphine, who already boasts four rushes of at least 35 yards, and the return to full health of Darius Bradwell, who gained 90 yards on 15 carries against UAB after playing hurt in the first two games.
Having averaged more than 225 rushing yards in coach Willie Fritz’ first two seasons, the Wave checks in at just below 200 yards (199.3) and managed 175 yards or fewer against Wake Forest or UAB. Ruse pointed out simple errors like Banks having the wrong footwork and running backs using the wrong landmarks.
“Those are minor things that you kind of take for granted after a month-and-a-half of practice,” he said. “If you don't pay great attention to those every day, it will come back and bite you in the tail, and that happened to us Saturday some, too. If they’re just off slightly, it greatly affects the success of the play.”
The other missing ingredient at UAB was Banks scrambling downfield when he could not find an open receiver. He waited until the final desperation drive to sprint for 13 and 25 yards, holding the ball too long and getting hit repeatedly for the first 59 minutes.
“If he goes back and it doesn’t look good, shoot, find an opening and go,” Fritz said. “That’s a great run play for us. He runs with a lot of power. He has a good change of direction. It doesn’t hurt us when he does that at all.”
The offensive inefficiency has come against two teams with suspect defenses. Wake Forest gave up 220 rushing yards and 41 points to Boston College after holding Tulane to 153 rushing yards and 17 points. UAB allowed 296 rushing yards in a 47-24 loss to Coastal Carolina the week before playing the Wave.
Ruse knows how much better this offense can perform.
“We've done some things very well,” he said. “But we're nowhere near our potential at this point.”